Washington Watch: More funding for community colleges, students


The Biden administration on Thursday announced funding and other initiatives to support community colleges and their students, as well additional guidance on using previously awarded Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds.

Continuing the Biden administration’s focus on community colleges, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and First Lady Jill Biden on Thursday visited Bergen Community College in New Jersey to announce a major new grant program that will primarily benefit community colleges and other initiatives to help colleges in their efforts to address students’ basic needs.

The announcement includes information about the forthcoming Supplemental Support under American Rescue Plan (SSARP) program, which will grant $198 million to colleges and universities with the greatest unmet need because of the pandemic. The U.S. Education Department (ED) will prioritize community colleges and rural institutions of higher education (IHEs) that serve a high percentage of low-income students and have experienced enrollment declines since the start of the pandemic. This program is the final major tranche of the nearly $40 billion for higher education that was provided through the American Rescue Plan Act, Coronavirus Relief and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, and CARES Act.

ED will invite applications next week, with awards expected in late spring.

Additional guidance

ED also on Thursday released guidance that provides useful illustrations of how colleges may use already-awarded institutional COVID relief funds to address students’ basic needs, including childcare, transportation, academic supports, housing and mental health care. This is the latest of several guidance documents issued by ED to help institutions that still have Covid relief funds to spend.

In addition, ED announced $5 million in grants for six community colleges to develop new initiatives to serve students’ basic needs. ED is also sending a letter to all colleges and universities to inform them that they may use Free Application for Federal Student Aid data to connect students with public benefits programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.  

Related article: Additional student support, thanks to the American Rescue Plan

About the Author

Jim Hermes
Jim Hermes is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.
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