Kudos for their use of federal relief funds

Grand Rapids Community College tapped federal funding to help its students with technology. GRCC provided more than 630 loaner laptops, about 400 internet wi-fi hotspots and other equipment during the pandemic. (Photo: GRCC/Andrew Schmidt)

In announcing a new round of federal emergency grants to higher education institutions on Tuesday, the U.S. Education Department (ED) also gave props to how some colleges and universities — including community colleges — have used previous relief funds to date.

As part of the announcement of the new funds, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Monday night held a media call with several college and university leaders joining for comment. Among them was Bill Pink, president of Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) in Michigan, who also serves on the American Association of Community Colleges board of directors. Cardona noted the work of GRCC for its outreach and support for students facing challenges during the pandemic.

“They’re actually an exemplar in how they reach out into the community and get those students who were hit the hardest – including students from rural communities, which were impacted greatly by the pandemic,” Cardona said.

Related article: Washington Watch: A new round of relief funds, plus updated ED guidance

GRCC distributed about $3.4 million in federal CARES Act funding directly to students to help them with food, healthcare, childcare and technology and is in the process of distributing additional resources made available through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, according to the college. GRCC will receive about $25 million through the new funding to continue to help students overcome obstacles and to offset costs related to the pandemic.

“These funds will help us, and it will help these students. We know many students told us this school year, ‘We’re sitting it out. We’re not even going to college.’ Now that we’re able to get these types of funds in place, it will help us in helping those students re-engage because now, these funds can take some other barriers off the table,” Pink told Cardona and the media.

A range of uses

ED highlighted in its press release how other community colleges are using their relief grants. Examples of institutions using relief funds to support students with exceptional needs include San Joaquin Delta College (California), which has already set aside $6.2 million of its ARP allocation to provide direct grants to more than 4,100 students who have shown the highest need for financial support. Northern Virginia Community College was also noted. It used one-quarter of its CARES institutional funds for emergency grants.

Examples of institutions using relief funding to retain and reengage students included Foothills-De Anza Community College (California), which established a Mental Wellness Ambassador program to promote mental health services, reducing stigma surrounding mental health disorders, creating community and fostering an inclusive and non-judgmental campus culture, using previous rounds of relief funding.

The Dallas College Mountain View campus (Texas) was recognized for using relief funds to prevent and mitigate the spread of Covid. It used prior relief funds for PPE masks and enhanced weekly cleanings.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.