As we are talking with current and prospective clients we often hear five misunderstandings about the higher education pandemic relief funds currently available. These misunderstandings include:
- All of the COVID-19 relief funding was made available early in the pandemic.
- The deadline has now passed for using pandemic relief funds.
- All of the money allocated to us has been used up by now.
- The relief funds have to be given directly to students and can not be used for software licenses.
- We can not use relief funds for SmarterServices products that we paid for with institutional funds last year.
You may be surprised to know that every one of these statements is false. In this video overview and blog, we'll take an in-depth look at each one of these misunderstandings.
Check out the video overview below to learn more or keep scrolling to read the blog summary.
5 Misunderstandings About Higher Education Pandemic Relief Funds
Misunderstanding #1: All of the COVID-19 relief funding was made available early in the pandemic.
First is the belief that all of the COVID relief funding was distributed early in the pandemic. It is true that a large amount of money, 14 billion dollars to be exact, was made available to higher education institutions in March 2020 as the pandemic broke out. But if you think that was a lot of money, hold on.
Did you realize that there have been two additional distributions of federal funds to higher education institutions after that? Right at the end of 2020, when you were likely off work for the holidays, another 22.7 billion was distributed. But that is not all, just this past Spring in March 2021, a year after the pandemic started, a third distribution was made and it was actually larger than the first two distributions combined. That’s right! The third distribution was 39.6 billion dollars for higher ed.
Misunderstanding #2: The deadline has now passed for using pandemic relief funds.
The second misunderstanding is that the deadline has passed for new expenditures of the federal funds received by your school. This statement is false in that schools have one year after the receipt of the federal funds to spend them. The US Department of Education stated this rule as, “Institutions generally must expend their HEERF grant funds within one year from the date when the Department processed the most recent obligation of funds for each specific grant.”
So, for example, if a school received money from the third distribution known as the American Rescue Plan Act on May 20, 2021, then they will have until May 19, 2022, to spend the funds. Since the third round of funding was made available on March 11, 2021, all schools have at least until March 10, 2022, to spend the funding.
Misunderstanding #3: All of the money allocated to us has been used up by now.
A common third misunderstanding is that all of the funding available in your state has been used up by now. This belief is also very untrue. In fact, millions of dollars are still available to higher education institutions in every state. Would you like to know how much is still available in your state?
Well, there is a handy tool that will provide that information to you. Click here to view a state-by-state breakdown.
Here in Michigan as of July 22, 2021, over 4 billion was made available, but so far only 786 million has been spent. In Michigan, there are 166 institutions of higher education and so far only 123 have utilized any of the available funds.
Check out how much funding is available in your state by clicking here.
Misunderstanding #4: The relief funds have to be given directly to students and can not be used for software licenses.
The next misunderstanding is that the relief funds must be used in ways that are direct to students and expenditures like annual licenses for the software provided by SmarterServices are not allowable expenses. Fortunately, this understanding is also incorrect.
The rule as stated by the Department of Education is “At least half of an institution’s allocation must be used to make emergency financial aid grants to students (the Student Aid Portion); the remainder may be used for institutional purposes (Institutional Portion).” The guidance further goes on to clarify that the institutional portion can be used for “Defraying expenses associated with coronavirus (including lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred, technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, faculty and staff trainings, and payroll.”
All of the services provided by SmarterServices are included in the “technology costs associated with a transition to distance education.” SmarterMeasure helps students understand their level of readiness for learning online. SmarterProctoring helps students identify proctoring modalities that fit their needs. SmarterID helps students document that they are the actual persons doing their work in online courses. We have even had some institutions not only pay for their current year license, but utilize the funding for a multi-year license since many of the students disadvantaged by the pandemic may have to continue studying online for an extended period.
Misunderstanding #5: We can not use relief funds for SmarterServices products that we paid for with institutional funds last year.
The final misunderstanding is that if a school has paid for our services in prior years with institutional funds, that they are not allowed now to use the federal funds for this purpose. This belief is grounded in the fact that for most all federal grant programs in the past this has been the case.
Most other federal grants have language that the funding is intended to “supplement not supplant” institutional funding. But with the pandemic relief funds, this is not the case. Schools are allowed to use the federal funds to cover expenses such as our software licenses even if they have paid for them in prior years with institutional funds.
There Are Still Millions of Federal Funding Dollars Available
Now you know the facts. There are still millions of federal funding dollars available in every state and it can be used to fund licenses for our products.
So, what do you need to do if you would like to use these funds for an initial license or to renew an existing license? Well, the process may vary from school to school, but basically start with the Business Office of your institution. Ask who the person is who is responsible for federal grant funding. Then contact them and have a conversation about what you have learned in this blog. Recognize that they may not want to take my word for it.
If that's the case, we have prepared this Federal Funding Resources Downloadable Guide and resource site which contains multiple links to the authoritative resources published by the Department of Education. Then tell them that you would like to utilize some of the federal funding for licenses to SmarterServices products since they are all “technology costs associated with a transition to distance education.” Remind them that even if there is a return to campus this fall, that they still have at least until March 2022 to spend the federal funds.
If there is any way that we can help or provide answers to any of your questions, please reach out to us and we'd be happy to assist you in helping your institution and your students succeed.