Colleges Should Use Federal Stimulus Dollars To Invest In Student Mental Health Services

LEXINGTON, Mass., April 7, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — COVID-19 has created a student mental health crisis for institutions of higher education. Federal…

LEXINGTON, Mass., April 7, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — COVID-19 has created a student mental health crisis for institutions of higher education. Federal stimulus funds offer the means to a solution.

A recent report from the National Academy of Medicine confirms that college students across the country are experiencing negative mental health impacts from the numerous dislocations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Student surveys show that mental health issues represent a growing threat to student retention, academic achievement, and degree completion.

The most recent American Council on Education survey of college presidents shows that student mental health continues to be their most frequently cited concern, with three-quarters of all presidents identifying student mental health as a pressing issue.

However, COVID-19 has also reduced income and upended budgets for every college and university. So when I speak with presidents and other college administrators across the country they readily acknowledge the need to strengthen their student mental health services. Then they promptly cite financial constraints as the reason for not undertaking a critically-needed investment in student mental health.  

To the rescue comes the Federal government which is now providing billions of dollars in higher education emergency relief funding (HEER) funding that will give colleges and universities the financial resources and flexibility they need to move ahead with this important investment.

HEER funding is authorized in all three COVID-19 stimulus bills signed into law since last March. These bills and their HEER funding amounts include:

  • The CARES Act passed on 3/27/2020:      $14 billion
  • The CRRSA Act passed on 12/27/2020:    $27 billion
  • The ARP Act passed on 3/11/2021:            $36 billion

These $77 billion in HEER funds are being allocated directly to schools by a formula based primarily on their enrollments, with an emphasis on the Pell grant eligibility of their full time students. The projected amounts of HEER funding that will go to a particular school can be found in tables developed for each bill by the American Council of Education.

Each of the three stimulus bills divides a school’s HEER funding into two components: a Student Aid Portion and an Institutional Portion. The CARES Act stipulates that the Student Aid Portion must be at least 50% of a school’s HEER allocation and specifies that those funds must go directly to students to help them pay for the costs of their college education. The second and third stimulus bills require that the «same amount» of funding from each allocation must go to student financial aid.  Since the dollars in the CCRRSA and ARP Acts are substantially greater than the dollars in the CARES Act, more than 50% of those allocations will be available for the Institutional Portion.

The substantial number of dollars in HEER funding that is being allocated to schools in their Institutional Portions may be used to replace lost revenues, defray expenses associated with the coronavirus pandemic, and/or fund student support activities.  The availability of three tranches of Federal relief funds will give colleges much greater budget flexibility and will allow them to support important initiatives. Given the pandemic’s impacts on student mental health, investment in enhanced mental health services is clearly an appropriate use of HEER funds, either directly or indirectly.

HEER funds are available to schools in the form of Federal grants that must be applied for. A school must submit completed applications for both the Student Aid Portion and Institutional Portion via the web site.  A single application for each portion will secure funding from all three bills.  As is typical for any Federal grant, a general description of how the dollars will be spent and a final report on how they were used is required.

Schools should act NOW to secure all of the HEER funds they are eligible for as the deadline for submitting student aid and institutional portion grants based on CARES and CRRSA Act HEER dollars is April 15th. Submitting a HEER grant application now will set a school up to receive ARP Act allocations as well.

It’s been noted frequently during the pandemic that a crisis can also be an opportunity. That adage is certainly applicable to the college student health crisis that’s been markedly exacerbated by COVID-19.  The large amount of Federal stimulus dollars coming to every college and university in the form of HEER allocations gives schools a perfect way to turn a crisis into an opportunity by rethinking and reenergizing their student mental health programs. Now is the time for student affairs leaders and counseling center directors to make a strong case for institutional investments to strengthen student mental health services.

About Christie Campus Health

At Christie Campus Health, we are dedicated to improving the behavioral health and wellbeing of college students by helping colleges and universities expand the way they reach and support students in need.  Our solution, CONNECT@College, offers a number of integrated components that provide a broad range of self-care and professional treatment options for students with varying behavioral health needs.

About Dr. Robert Meenan

Dr. Meenan served as Dean at Boston University School of Public Health from 1992 to 2014, and retired from BU in 2016 as Professor of Health Policy and Management in the School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine in the School of Medicine. He holds a BA in government from Harvard College, an MD from Boston University School of Medicine, an MPH in Health Administration and Planning from the University of California Berkeley, and an MBA in Health Care Administration from Boston University School of Management.

Contact: Christie Campus Health

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