SANTA FE, NM – The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $207 million to New Mexico public and Tribal colleges and universities under the American Rescue Plan, half of which will go directly to students in the form of emergency relief grants.
“As we move forward from the pandemic, the federal emergency relief funding going directly to students and higher education institutions, in addition to state financial aid programs and resources are more critical than ever,” Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said. “This is a lifeline for students pursuing higher education and a way to for them to get the training and skills they need for family-sustaining careers.”
Resources will be targeted to support students with exceptional financial need, including those who are eligible for need-based Pell Grants and have significant unexpected expenses, loss of employment, reduced income, or food or housing insecurity. Colleges and universities can also use the funds to discharge student debt accrued during the pandemic and provide college transcripts free of cost.
The remaining institutional funds can be used to support distance education and technology upgrades and provide student support services including mental health services and resources. Colleges and universities are also required to use a portion of the funds to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to support efforts to vaccinate students and campus communities.
“The impact has been seriously positive for our campus,” Doña Ana Community College President Mónica Torres said. “We have been able to use funds for technology that enables students to access learning in the 21st Century. The leadership and support we have gotten from the state has also set us up to be successful.”
The current funding comes from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HERF) with a new formula requiring approximately half of the funding to be used to provide direct grants to students demonstrating need. Colleges and universities previously received relief funds via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), and via the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund (GEER).
Torres said that students receiving CARES funds had higher retention rates. Of students who received emergency relief grants for the Spring 2020 semester, 84 percent returned for the fall semester. For the Spring 2021 semester, 96 percent of students at the college attended at least one online course.
The college also used federal relief funds to provide 2,100 iPads to students in need of a device for online learning, to purchase interactive simulation software including a virtual reality learning system, and to develop and deliver instructional training for online learning to all faculty.
Torres said that the move to online learning accelerated the college’s plans to expand online learning opportunities and removed barriers for students with accessibility and mobility challenges.
The amount received by each institution was determined by a formula that factors in the number of students receiving need-based federal Pell Grants, and the number of those recipients exclusively enrolled in distance education prior to the pandemic. A total of $39.6 billion was provided to public and private colleges and universities nationwide under the current round of funding.