Feb 15 2023

Time Is Running Out for Colleges to Spend COVID-19 Relief Funds

The deadline to allocate grant money provided by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund is June 30.

More than three years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, college and university administrators have only a few months left to allocate money made available by the federal government through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

The HEERF is an umbrella fund combining the billions of dollars offered to higher education institutions through three federal actions: the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan.

The noncompetitive grant funding was made available in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and initially went toward efforts such as spacing out students in classrooms and other campus buildings and providing students and faculty with the hardware, software and devices they needed to participate in remote learning.

Since those early days in 2020, many colleges and universities have continued to fortify their remote and hybrid learning infrastructure using HEERF, and there are still plenty of ways that universities can put their unallocated dollars to good use.

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What Does the June 30 Deadline for Allocating HEERF Money Mean?

The federal government pushed back the deadline for spending HEERF grants several times as the pandemic continued, but the most recent deadline, June 30, promises to be the last.

With President Joe Biden slated to end the country’s COVID-19 emergency declarations May 11, it’s highly unlikely that any additional funding will become available or that the deadline will be extended again.

This means that institutions that still have money available (and for some, that’s millions of dollars) must have a plan in place before June 30. It’s important to note, however, that purchases do not have to be completed by that date. Because of supply chain backups and other factors, the government is willing to extend the deadline for making a purchase into 2024, but only if a plan for spending the money has been made and submitted to the government by June 30.

It’s also worth noting that any projects that were in the works before the COVID-19 pandemic are not eligible for HEERF reimbursement; the funding is meant to address only obstacles created by the pandemic.

Spending HEERF funding can also be tricky because the applications are not reviewed until after purchases are made. So, colleges and universities must outlay the money for a proposed project and then wait for a government audit to either approve or decline the request. That puts added pressure on purchasers to be certain that their projects will be approved so they’re not handed a surprise bill down the road.

DISCOVER: How disruptive innovation helps universities overcome financial obstacles.

What Types of Purchases Will Be Approved for HEERF Grants?

Because of the way HEERF grants are approved, there’s no way to guarantee that any project gets the green light for reimbursement, but here a few kinds of projects that we think universities can move ahead with confidently.

Classroom Modernization

To address the increase in remote and hybrid learning, colleges and universities need to adapt their instructional spaces to help professors offer effective instruction and allow students to remain safely apart in the case of a future pandemic.

HEERF grants should be approved for projects such as adding flexible furniture to space out students, audiovisual equipment including cameras and displays that help connect in-person and remote learners in hybrid environments, digital whiteboards, and power supplies to support this technology.

Collaboration Tools

If universities haven’t fully integrated collaboration software like ZoomMicrosoft Teams or Cisco Webex, those tools would certainly qualify for a HEERF grant — although asking to fund multiyear licenses could cause a grant request to be denied.

Keep these collaboration tools in mind when discussing classroom modernization as well, since you’ll want to design classrooms that enable the most effective instruction via one of these platforms.

Wireless Access

One of the early uses of HEERF was to upgrade wireless access across campuses so that students, faculty and staff had a sturdy connection everywhere from the dorms to the library to the lawn. Wireless network upgrades and supporting tools such as long-range Wi-Fi extenders are eligible for reimbursement.

Cybersecurity Tools

As a college or university’s network improves and extends, there are cybersecurity risks that come along with it. Thankfully, HEERF grants can help pay for additional network protection, since the need for additional network connectivity was a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to remote and hybrid learning.

Professional Development

With all of the new tools and teaching methods mentioned above, you’ll also need to make sure your instructors know how to use them. So, professional development opportunities for instructors to learn the ins and outs of collaboration tools as well as other remote-focused educational software would be solid options for universities to pursue when looking to spend their HEERF allotments.

If you’re still unsure of what your university needs to do or what purchases could be eligible for HEERF grants, ask an expert for help. CDW’s higher education team has been advising colleges and universities on HEERF options throughout the past three years and will continue to do so, at least until June 30.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

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