In March, under the CARES Act, Congress allocated $3 billion from the Education Stabilization Fund to the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEERF), which was established to give governors discretionary resources to help essential educational institutions afford the additional costs resulting from the pandemic. The Century Foundation (TCF) did an initial analysis of the GEERF applications that revealed disparities between states in funding institutions of higher education (IHE). Now, TCF’s analysis of the first forty-five-day reports submitted by states shows that GEERF funding directed to higher education was most commonly used to support remote learning, for workforce and career development, and for students’ financial assistance. The spending so far may offer some insights into how states will allocate the additional $4 billion in GEERF in the new stimulus package passed by Congress.
The Department of Education required states and the District of Columbia receiving GEERF funds to submit an initial forty-five-day report to detail their process of awarding the funds, including details on the criteria used to identify the institutions that were “most significantly impacted by coronavirus and/or essential for carrying out emergency educational services.” Just as in the applications, states did not always specify in the reports how the funds would be used and how much would be allocated to each institution, though overall, states were consistent with what was described in their applications and what was listed in their initial reports. At least $600 million of GEERF’s $3 billion went toward IHEs, though that number may be an undercount due to the various ways in which states reported their total spending. Below is an analysis of the most common usages of funds targeted toward higher education.
It is no surprise that GEERF dollars would be used to convert in-person classrooms to virtual classrooms, and that the main focus has been on K–12. However, many institutions of higher education have also struggled transitioning toward virtual learning as a result of the digital divide, and these connectivity issues are having devastating effects on marginalized groups of students, specifically students of color and low-income students. A handful of states specifically stated in their report that they would be using a portion of their funds for supporting remote learning in IHEs:
- Idaho stated that they were using $5.1 million of their approximate $5.8 million IHE disbursement to improve accessibility and quality of remote learning, including funding for “curriculum and instructional support materials.”
- Of Iowa’s $6.9 million allocated toward its IHEs, $4.4 million was used for access and connectivity, with $1 million going directly to community colleges for equipment and connectivity for adult education.
- Louisiana allocated $4.75 million for higher education remote learning initiatives, specifically for their “at-risk students.” One such initiative is technological assistance for students and faculty with disabilities.
Workforce and Career Development
Other states used the funds for workforce development initiatives and career development training, at times specifically focused either on frontline workers or on unemployed workers. Thirteen states revealed they would use a portion of their funds for career development and/or supporting workforce training initiatives:
- Florida provided its institutions with $35 million in grants to assist in enrolling students in short-term career and technical education programs to connect the unemployed, underemployed, or furloughed with training resources. An additional $2.5 million was used to develop their Pathway to Job Market Dashboard, a platform that would integrate “labor market information” by providing quantitative data on career and technical education (CTE) courses/programs.
- Michigan used $24 million to create Futures for Frontliners, a scholarship program for frontline workers without degrees who worked during the pandemic in April and June 2020. The scholarship specifically offers frontline workers with free tuition at local, in district community colleges.
- Oklahoma used $1.9 million to create a Skills to Rebuild initiative in partnership with local employers to provide an accelerated workforce training program. The partnership is for specific fields such as medical coding and information technology, and prioritizes training frontline health care workers.
- South Dakota used a portion of their funds to create UpSkill, an online short-term certificate program for four of their technical institutions for high-demand careers in the state. The program is specifically for workers displaced as a result of COVID-19.
Several states focused on addressing financial needs facing students, and in some instances those who were neglected by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). These states used the funds to provide financial aid to students:
- Colorado allotted $1 million to their IHEs for financial support to students who did not benefit from HEERF.
- Connecticut allotted $6.9 million of their funds for need-based scholarships through the Office of Higher Education.
- Missouri used a portion of their funds to create grants for low-income adult students who enroll in an IHE to obtain a degree for a high-demand career.
- Virginia allocated funds to their IHEs, including allocations to their community colleges to aid displaced adult students through last-dollar scholarships.
- North Carolina allotted $15 million of their funds to their community colleges for adult students participating in workforce training for high-demand careers, $4 million for independent colleges and universities, and $6 million for their public universities (University of North Carolina System) toward student aid.
Tennessee appears to be the only state to use a fraction of their funds—$500,000—for outreach to communities who have experienced declines in rural college enrollment. There were also several states who combined their IHE funding with K–12 funding to create programs that would assist local educational agencies (LEAs) with improving technological capacities for remote learning. Hawaii in particular used their funds to create a $5 million Distance Learning Teacher Academy and a $600,000 Summer Transition to College Program, which are both collaborations with the University of Hawaii and public, private, and charter schools.
Current Disbursements and Moving Forward
Based on the interactive online tool for reporting state usages of the Education Stabilization Fund, it appears at first glance as if the majority of states have not used all of their GEERF funding. Of the $3 billion allocated to the GEERF, the tool suggests that 18 percent has been used. However, the information on the interactive tool may not be fully reflective of how states are actually using the funds. Depending on how each state is disbursing funds, the timing for when the funds are officially dispensed, accounted for, and finally reported to the Department of Education, will vary; the lack of information on the interactive tool does not necessarily mean that the funds have not been spent. With an additional $4 billion going out the door and significant outstanding need in states to respond to costs incurred as a result of the pandemic, the decisions made by states so far may provide some clues as to how those funds will be utilized.