ED urges colleges to use HEERF for mental health


The U.S. Education Department (ED) is encouraging colleges to use available allotted money through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) to address student, faculty and staff mental health.

The department on Thursday issued new guidance to higher education institutions for providing mental health assistance for students and employees. It includes examples of how colleges can use HEERF for evidence-based mental health supports for students and connect the campus community to providers and care. That includes substance use disorder services and support for students, faculty and staff affected by the pandemic, which exacerbated struggles with mental health.

In its Q&A-format guidance, ED notes that although the funds and timeframe to use HEERF grants are limited, it hopes colleges can leverage the funds to develop more robust mental healthcare systems in connection with local organizations, philanthropies and other funders. (The department recently extended the deadline by which colleges must use their HEERF allotments to June 30, 2023.)

Potential uses

Colleges and universities can use HEERF funds to leverage longer-term to shorter-term efforts, such as hiring counselors, social workers and other mental health staff. It cites as an example that Ohio’s Sinclair Community College hired a social worker to provide case management to more than 380 students in fall 2021 alone.

Institutions can also use the money to expand telehealth. It notes how Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa College, a tribal college in rural Wisconsin, used its funds for a virtual platform that allows students and faculty on-demand, 24/7 access to counselors.

Wellness activities such as physical fitness and healthy eating — which ED noted can be part of a holistic approach to mental care — can also be eligible for funds’ use.

In addition, the guidance includes examples of how colleges can use the funds to address longer-term mental health issues, such as suicide prevention and crisis intervention training. North Carolina’s Davidson-Davie Community College used HEERF grants to provide mental health first aid classes and materials to more than 30 faculty and staff to better serve individuals on campus who may be struggling with a mental disorder or substance use.

ED notes HEERF grants also can be used for efforts such as creating suicide prevention coordinating committees, task forces or to help underserved populations of students or marginalized groups, including LGBTQ+ students and students who are survivors of violence.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.