Supporting Your Institution with Federal Funding 

Prepare your institution for a changing future by leveraging HEERF grants.  

Digital transformation is an important step for colleges and universities. Defined by EDUCAUSE as “a series of deep and coordinated workforce, culture, and technology shifts that enable new educational and operating models and transform an institution’s operations, strategic directions, and value proposition,” digital transformation is a future-oriented shift for HigherEd institutions.  

Quote: How can you institution achieve digitization on a limited budget?The future of human resources is digital. The right digital solution will save your office time by automating and streamlining efforts; save money by decreasing internal costs; create positive user experiences that meet the high expectations of candidates; and give access to data and insights that will enable strategic and data-driven decision-making for your department.  

There is no question about the benefits of digitizing now, but with colleges and universities across the country facing budget cuts and revenue losses due to the pandemic, how can your institution achieve digitization? Don’t write off this important step because of a limited budget—there are funds out there for higher education designated to help your institution recover.   


Higher Education Economic Relief Funds

Three rounds of Higher Education Economic Relief Funds (HEERF) have been distributed to colleges and universities across the country to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

HEERF Fund  Total Allocated  Legislation  Legislation Enacted  Expiration Date 
HEERF 1  $14 billion  Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)  March 2020  All remaining HEERF grant funds must be spent within one year from the date when the ED processed HEERF 3 funds for their institution. For most institutions, this deadline is in May 2022.  
HEERF 2  $23 billion  Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA)  December 2020 
HEERF 3  $40 billion  American Rescue Plan (ARP)  March 2021 
*Note: on July 29, 2021, ED announced that and additional $3.2 billion in HEERF would be released to over 1,800 institutions. These funds mostly come from the ARP and will support HBCUs, MSIs, TCCUs, and public and non-profit institutions with the greatest unmet needs related to the pandemic.  


HEERF is designed to help your institution recover and come back stronger, and it’s important to make good use of these funds. Colleges and universities are required to use a portion of these funds for student emergency aid, so be sure to meet those minimum spending requirements before working on distributing the institutional portion of your funds.  

Institutional allowable spending uses include: 

  • Lost revenue (e.g. covering lost revenue from student expenses like housing and dining) 
  • Reimbursement for expenses already incurred (e.g. money that your institution already spent to fight COVID-19, protect your campus, and keep your faculty, staff, and students safe) 
  • Faculty and staff trainings (e.g. teaching faculty how to work within the new normal, trainings related to delivering education within the digital environment) 
  • Payroll
  • Technology costs associated with the transition to distance education 

The technology costs are an important spending section. Software costs and technology services can fall under this umbrella, when they’rePhoto of a businessman with a glowing dollar sign held in his hands. related to transitions to virtual classes, used to expand remote learning programs, or used to move faculty and staff trainings/training materials to digital formats. The category can include anything you did to bring your students on board and keep them enrolled in a virtual environment. Of course, there are limitations to the use of HEERF funds, along with reporting requirements, so be sure to work closely with your institution’s legal department to ensure compliance.   


Using HEERF Dollars

With the above information as a springboard, what are the creative and important ways your institution can make use of HEERF grants? At PeopleAdmin’s recent HigherEd conference, PeopleConnect Live, we heard from several higher education experts about the various ways colleges and universities are leveraging HEERF.  

Iris Palmer, senior advisor for higher education and workforce with the Education Policy program at New America, spoke about one university that hired social workers to help students stay enrolled now and serve students into the future, recognizing that their regularly trained advisors couldn’t meet the level of student need. Another system used HEERF to build the cost of textbooks into the cost of classes, while other institutions are taking the opportunity to wipe away all student debt. 

Danny Linton, Associate Director of Functional Online Solutions at the University of Memphis, discussed how his university supported student needs. UM has offered emergency student grants, support for student scholarships, housing and dining refunds, and has removed a previous fee for online classes. To retain students who were dependent on school technology, UM purchased laptops and hotspots for many Quote: One recommendation for using HEERF dollars: document, document, document. students. The university also continued payroll for student workers and graduate assistants, even if they couldn’t perform their duties, and invested in testing and vaccine sites. 

Jim Hundrieser, Ph. D., the Vice President for Consulting and Business Development at NACUBO, had one recommendation for any college or university team looking to use their HEERF grants: document, document, document. Make sure you note where your dollars are going and why. If you can, document the impact this funding has on your students and on your institution.  

Additionally, RPK Group provided a few helpful parameters for thinking about spending priorities during the digital transformation.  

  1. Recoup. Work on fixing everything at your institution that COVID-10 has broken. For instance, are there paper processes that need to become digital so faculty and staff can safely do their jobs and serve students?  
  1. Spend. Focus on the short term needs of your institution, like protective equipment purchased in 2020, the additional staff needed when opening this fall with testing needs, or the technology needed to support a hybrid learning environment. How can you operate at a higher level right now? 
  1. Invest. Look for long-term gaps in your institution’s infrastructure. What technology upgrades are needed? Do you need to retrain staff for a hybrid environment? What about the physical needs of your campus looking forward? 
  1. Transform. How can you ensure student success in the future? This is the opportunity to look at your campus and your current practices with fresh eyes, and rethink how you can best support your students in a new world. 

Final Thoughts: Dive into Digital Transformation

Students in graduation caps posing for a photo.

There are many ways to leverage HEERF grants to support your students, faculty, staff, and institutional mission—and digitization is one of them. Digitization is an important step for your institution, and can enable your faculty and staff to perform better and support students more holistically. HEERF is available to help your institution recover and thrive, and to help your students stay enrolled and learning during a difficult time. Don’t let this opportunity pass, and be sure to use your HEERF grants before the funding expires.