Today, the Biden-Harris Administration announced that an estimated 18 million[1]  students have received direct financial aid since the start of 2021 thanks to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), which was dramatically expanded by President Biden in the American Rescue Plan (ARP). Today’s announcement and a report from the Department of Education (Department) show that tens of billions of dollars—accounting for roughly half of all funds provided by ARP and earlier pandemic legislation—went directly to aiding students in the form of emergency financial aid grants and the discharge of unpaid student account balances. First Lady Jill Biden, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, and American Rescue Plan Coordinator Gene Sperling highlighted today’s news on a call with Delaware State President Tony Allen and students who benefited directly from HEERF funds. During the call, participants discussed how these funds allowed millions of students to avoid dropping out during the pandemic, helped them to afford the costs of college, and helped meet their basic needs like food, housing, transportation, and child care. By supporting college persistence and completion, this assistance is also contributing to a stronger post-pandemic workforce.

In March of 2021, President Biden signed the ARP, which included the largest round of HEERF investments in the program’s history. HEERF funds are aimed at protecting college students from hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today’s announcement highlights new data from the Department that includes the following:

  • 18 million college students received direct financial aid since the start of 2021: Emergency aid grants provided by HEERF could be used to support any expense related to a student’s cost of attendance, including food, housing, mental health, and child care. In 2021 alone, institutions of higher education (institutions) provided $19.5 billion in emergency aid grants to nearly 13 million students. Nearly half of all students who were enrolled at HEERF-participating institutions received HEERF-funded emergency grants in 2021.
  • 6 million community college students received direct financial aid: The Department projects that 6 million community college students have received an emergency aid grant since the start of 2021. In 2021 alone, roughly 3.5 million community college students received an emergency aid grant, representing nearly half of all community college students enrolled that year.
  • 450,000 students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) received direct financial aid: All 101 HBCUs received support through HEERF to provide relief for their students—reaching a projected total of 450,0000 students with emergency financial aid grants since the start of 2021. This includes more than 290,000 students in 2021 alone. Additionally, in 2021, over three-quarters (77 percent) of HBCUs used HEERF funds to discharge unpaid student balances.
  • Nearly 8 million students at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) received direct financial aid: Since the start of 2021, the Department projects that nearly 8 million students at MSIs received emergency aid grants as a result of HEERF support.
  • 24,000 students at Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) received direct financial aid: The Department projects that 24,000 students at TCUs have directly benefited from HEERF emergency aid grants since the start of 2021. In 2021 alone, nearly 70 percent of students at TCUs received an emergency aid grant, reaching more than 14,000 students.
  • In 2021, 94 percent of community colleges, and 90 percent of institutions overall, report that HEERF assisted them in keeping students enrolled who were at risk of dropping out by providing financial support.
  • ARP and other pandemic higher education aid were well-targeted—with 80 percent of Pell Grant recipients receiving direct aid: While half of all students are estimated to have received emergency aid grants from HEERF in 2021, 80 percent of those receiving Pell Grants did. Pell Grant recipients and students enrolled at under-resourced institutions—including HBCUs, TCUs, MSIs, and institutions eligible for funds under the Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP)—were more likely to receive aid and typically received aid in higher amounts.
  • Institutions used HEERF funding to boost retention and completion, address enrollment declines, and reengage students: For example, over 1,400 institutions provided relief to students by discharging nearly $1.5 billion in unpaid balances in 2021 alone.

During the pandemic, Congress provided historic support for college students and the institutions that support them—including nearly $40 billion through President Biden’s ARP. About 5,000 colleges and universities received HEERF funding and were able to move quickly to deliver needed assistance. By the end of 2022, these institutions had expended more than 90 percent of all HEERF funding, including more than 80 percent of HEERF funding provided through ARP. On average, 50 percent of the total HEERF funds have gone directly to students in the form of emergency aid grants, helping them to continue their education amidst challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Specifically, the Department’s latest data on the impact of HEERF funds in 2021 show that:

  • Institutions distributed $19.5 billion in emergency financial aid grants to 12.7 million students—including 80 percent of Pell Grant recipients—through the portion of HEERF reserved for direct student aid in 2021.
    • Approximately 2,000 institutions chose to provide an additional $1.7 billion in emergency financial aid grants through their HEERF institutional funds.
  • Nine in 10 institutions reported that HEERF funds enabled them to keep students who were at risk of dropping out due to pandemic-related factors enrolled. Additionally:
    • Roughly seven in 10 institutions stated that HEERF enabled them to keep students enrolled by providing them with computers and internet access.
    • Over 1,400 institutions provided nearly $1.5 billion on in assistance to students by discharging unpaid student balances.
  • Nearly all community colleges, HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs say HEERF funds kept students from dropping out.
    • More than 94 percent of community colleges, HBCUs, TCUs, MSIs and SIP-eligible institutions stated that HEERF enabled their institutions to keep students enrolled who were at risk of dropping out by providing financial support.
    • 61 percent of HBCUs, TCUs, MSIs, and SIP-eligible institutions (1,026 institutions) spent $1.4 billion in institutional funds to provide for additional emergency financial aid grants in 2021.
  • HEERF funds were deployed quickly to aid students in need, with more than half spent in 2021 alone.
    • 53 percent, or $39 billion, of total HEERF dollars were spent in 2021, including roughly 40 percent or $15.8 billion of the HEERF funding provided under ARP.
    • To date, institutions have spent over 90 percent of their HEERF funds—including 85 percent of total funds, and 97 percent of student funds, provided under ARP.

To view the Department’s full report, see here. The Administration is also releasing overviews of 2021 HEERF data by state and for community colleges, HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs.

HEERF is just one part of the Administration’s comprehensive approach to help students and borrowers:

  • In just the first two years of the Biden-Harris Administration, the Department discharged $48 billion in targeted relief to nearly 2 million student loan borrowers, including borrowers who were taken advantage of by their institutions and borrowers in public service. 
  • In August, President Biden announced his Administration’s plan to provide up to $20,000 in one-time debt relief to more than 40 million Americans, which will help borrowers most at risk of financial hardships related to the COVID-19 pandemic avoid default or delinquency when the payment pause ends. While the Administration is confident in its legal authority to carry out this debt relief program, it is currently blocked due to lawsuits brought on by opponents of the program. The Department of Justice will make the Administration’s case for one-time debt relief directly to the Supreme Court on February 28th.
  • Last month, the Department proposed an income-driven repayment plan that would cut payments on undergraduate loans in half and make sure no borrower has to choose between putting food on the table or paying an unaffordable student loan bill.
  • President Biden signed into law historic investments in the Pell Grant program—increasing the maximum award by $900 over the last two years.

The Administration also continues to fight to make community college free, so more Americans—regardless of their income or background—can build the skills needed to obtain good jobs and support their families. With historic investments in growing sectors such as manufacturing, infrastructure, and clean energy through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act, all of these efforts will increase affordable pathways for students to and through educational institutions, particularly community colleges, into next generation job opportunities.

[1] This includes the number of students reported to have received funds in 2021 and the projected number of students who will receive funds in 2022. To get the projected number, the Department used HEERF spending data, including spending from student aid funds in 2022, the percentage of institutional funds spent by institutions on additional emergency aid grants, and the average student award. The projected number may include students that received funds in both 2021 and 2022.


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