One of the nation’s largest community colleges puts its ‘rescue’ funds to student aid and 24-hour support

Colleges across the country have received three rounds of federal funding during the pandemic. Each installment included money designated strictly to offer emergency financial assistance to students, as well as funding earmarked to help with institutions’ costs.

Portions of that pool often went toward the essentials used in an attempt to limit the virus’ reach: personal protective equipment, increased cleaning, dorm renovations.

Those things are still important, of course. But the latest installment of higher ed funding being distributed this summer via the American Rescue Plan provides a lot more flexibility in how officials use the money. Many institutions in Ohio—like others across the country—are using the funds to essentially reimburse themselves for lost tuition revenue in order to maintain existing operations.

But at least one institution in the state, Cuyahoga Community College, is taking a different approach—focusing primarily on increasing support for its largely working adult students and trying to make it easier for others to come back to college.

“It’s a big shift from establishing everything we had to do, to now really focusing more on our student needs,” said David Kuntz, executive vice president of administration and finance at the college.

The college is receiving about $20.1 million allocated for institutional costs in this latest relief package signed by President Joe Biden in March and distributed over the spring and summer. The minimum student aid portions are bigger than the maximum amount able to be used by an institution for its needs.

Tri-C is diverting $5 million of its institutional funds to bring student aid up to about $26.5 million. The majority of community college students nationwide are women and people of color, two groups hit the hardest by the pandemic’s effects. Two-year public institutions across the country saw the biggest enrollment declines last fall. At 19 percent, Tri-C’s reported full-time enrollment drop nearly doubled the national rate.

Kuntz said the college wants to use some of its institutional funding to offer expanded around-the-clock student services. If busy working parents are settling in to do some schoolwork at night, they need to be able to pick up their phone and find support that fits in their schedule. It’s important.

“We want them to get a live person,” he said. “Because we know that if they get a voicemail, they’ll be all too quick just to hang up their phones.”

Read the full story about how Ohio colleges and universities are using the latest round of American Rescue Plan funding over at Open Campus.

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