Since the COVID-19 pandemic first struck the United States, the United States Federal Government has provided millions upon millions of dollars to higher education in the form of the CARES Act and its subsequent sections. Recently, Pittsburg State University received the third set of these payments and divided the money out among PSU students.
According to the official US Department of Education website, the American Rescue Plan, or alternatively the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund part three (HEERF III), was signed into law on March 11, 2021. These funds were provided in addition to other forms of COVID-19 related aid, and the total amount of funding provided to colleges and universities across the nation totaled 76.2 billion dollars.
“The CARES Act was phase one, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) was phase two, that’s HEERF II money, and the third phase was the American Rescue Plan, which is HEERF III,” said Tammy Higgins, financial aid data coordinator. “We received $7,293,943 from HEERF III funds, as far as just the student portion. We split it up—we give part of it for fall and part of it for spring—but we have more students in the fall than in the spring, so we give 60 percent for fall and 40 percent for spring.”
The HEERF III funding was divided among PSU students according to a system that allowed students with financial need to receive additional awards, but that also provided funds to every eligible student on campus.
“Our first priority is the Pell Grant and needs-based students,” Higgins said. “We broke those out, people with an EFC contribution of zero—they are the neediest of the needy—and we gave them awards based on if they were full-time or part-time. Then we took the next section, which would be people who are Pell Grant eligible, but their EFC isn’t zero, and we gave them a different award based on full-time or part-time. Then we took people that still had financial need up to their cost of attendance an award. People that were over their cost of attendance did not apply for that additional award. Every student at the university that is a degree-seeking student that was enrolled as of Sept. 13, they got a 500-dollar award. Everybody got the same amount whether they were full-time or part-time because everybody has expenses.”
Money like the funds provided by HEERF III can help students with their college monetary responsibilities, especially when, according to Higgins, the traditional federal aid system has fallen behind recent increases in living costs.
“Federal aid has not kept up with the cost of living, in my opinion,” Higgins said. “The Pell Grant increases every year, but student loans and the cost of attending a university has increased over the last twenty years or so, and the financial eligibility for student—especially freshmen or sophomores who have a lower allocation that they can have in student loans—that amount of student loan options has not increased, so those standards are not keeping up with the needs that the students have.”