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What the Newly Announced American Rescue Plan Funds Mean For Schools

By: Aylin Dunham
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The Department of Education just announced an additional $198 million in funding via the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that will be available to colleges and universities across the US. This increased source of public grants will support higher education institutions as they look to combat current pandemic-related challenges.

“In awarding funds, the Department will prioritize community colleges and rural institutions of higher education (IHEs) that serve a high percentage of low-income students and have experienced enrollment declines since the start of the pandemic,” the DOE reported.

Like the first phases of ARPA, school leaders can use these public sources of funding to invest in more services, equipment and technologies that help address health concerns and aim to keep students enrolled and meet remote learners’ accessibility needs.

What school leaders should know about the application process

ARPA funding is delivered through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), which is managed by the DOE. To get funding, institutions need to submit a short application.

Several different forms are available which are tailored for different school types like Public and Nonprofit schools, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The application typically requires basic information like the institution name, school identification numbers and the contact information of an authorized representative.

Once a request for funding is approved, school leaders will need to submit quarterly budget and expenditure reports to the DOE. These reports must include the total amount that is spent from awarded funds each quarter and specify details on how the money was used. Schools like Metropolitan Community College have published several versions of these reports on their website to allow other leaders and the public to review them.

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How other colleges are making use of ARPA

The DOE released new guidelines for school leaders to take note of when using awarded funds. The guidance released covers basic needs like food and clothing resources, but can also be used to improve existing programs like student counseling services and online learning.

These are some of the key ways that colleges are now using ARPA funds:

  • Supporting Enrollment Needs: To address declining enrollment rates, Santa Ana College is using ARPA funding to encourage enrollment for students who dropped out of their programs or never enrolled. Initiatives from this funding include calling students to help them with their registrations and connecting students to additional support services such as counseling.
  • Addressing Accessibility Needs: Some schools are using ARPA funds to deliver accessibility tools to students with disabilities, including those who are Deaf, hard of hearing, blind and have low vision. For example, the University of New Mexico is using this funding to create accessible video tours of their campus with captioning, plus to caption their distance learning courses. As an added benefit, these accessibility tools are helping the university meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) benchmarks. In addition to those with disabilities, all students who have access to these captions and corresponding transcripts of classes are benefitting from them as they prove to be useful for information retention and note taking to support studying.
  • Investing in Technologies to Support Social Distancing: To support social distancing needs, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology purchased additional computers and charging stations to further promote social distancing between students on campus. Other technologies like digital writing pads were purchased to support two-way communication between teachers and students, as well as virtual instruction for online learners.

Close up image of a person typing on their laptop.

File for funding to receive benefits quickly

Institutional leaders who want to take advantage of this new wave of ARPA funding can start submitting their applications to the Department of Education now.

These funds can be used to support efforts both on-campus and online, helping the hundreds of schools that had to return to remote and hybrid learning at the beginning of the year. With accessibility technologies, including captioning and audio description, being vital to many students with disabilities, among distance learners as a whole, leaders can look to allocate these funds to them.

To ensure the technologies you’re purchasing with these funds support the needs of students with disabilities and meet essential ADA guidelines, AST can help. Our captioning, transcription and audio description technologies support institutions such as the University of Arizona and Sierra College of the California Community College (CCC) system, among many others, as they aim to offer equitable learning experiences during these times.