Have you seen all the headlines about colleges giving out cash to students and wondered what the heck is going on? It might sound like a scam at first, but it’s not. If you’re in college right now, listen up—cash could be coming your way thanks to a little something called a HEERF grant. (Yeah, that acronym could be way better.)
The name might sound like it came from the Nerf company, but instead of foam darts, HEERF is hitting college students with extra cash. And actually, the college is getting a payday of their own through the bigger HEERF fund. Yeah—it’s a lot of weird terms to take in. Let’s break down what the HEERF is all about.
What Is the HEERF Fund?
The HEERF (Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund) is emergency funding that was set aside for colleges and universities through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act, and the American Rescue Plan. With each of these bills, colleges and universities received money to use for costs they’ve had to deal with because of COVID-19, like covering their payroll and making the switch to online distance classes.
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This money from the HEERF fund went directly to the colleges and universities to use for the school overall. As for the money that goes to the students, that comes along through something called a HEERF grant (more on that in a minute).
How Much Money Did Schools Get From the HEERF Fund?
Oh, it was way more than a pretty penny. Try billions and billions of dollar bills—$77 billion to be exact. Here’s how it all breaks down through each act.
CARES Act (March 2020): $14 billion1
CRRSA Act (December 2020): $23 billion2
American Rescue Plan (January 2021): $40 billion3
What Is a HEERF Grant?
A HEERF grant is money set aside from the HEERF fund that goes directly to the students. See here’s the deal: The school can’t pocket all the money from the HEERF fund. They have to dish out some of the money to the students too, and that happens through HEERF grant money.
And in case you were wondering—nope, the school has no say in how the students spend the money, and the school can’t use the money to cover bills that the student has either.4
So how many HEERF grants are there? Well technically, there are three HEERF grants out there—one tacked on to each of the three economic acts (CARES, CRRSA, and ARP). The schools have until the end of the spring 2022 semester to give out the HEERF grant money. Some have already cut checks, while others are waiting until next year to do it.
How Can Students Spend Money From a HEERF Grant?
Any way they want to spend the money—really. No one’s checking to make sure they spend it wisely here. Now, with all that being said, the money is supposed to be used “for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus.”5 So basically, the money given to the students should be used for the costs (and annoyance) that came from shutting down the campus during the pandemic.
A lot of schools have stressed that the students should use the money to pay for their education in some way—but there’s no way of making sure they do that. Once the money is in the hands of the students, all bets are off on how they’ll spend the money.
Who Is Eligible for a HEERF Grant?
Only the students who fall into Title IV of The Higher Education Act of 1965 can receive money from a HEERF grant.6 So, how do you know if that’s you? Well, first of all, you have to be eligible to fill out a FAFSA (aka are able to get financial aid). But here’s where things get a little sticky. The Department of Education doesn’t say you have to fill out your FAFSA, but that’s pretty much the only way for them to know if you’re eligible.7
Other than that, there are a few other boxes to tick to fall into Title IV, but it’s pretty standard stuff—like being a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, having a Social Security number, being registered with Selective Service (if you’re a man), having a high school diploma or GED, or completing high school through home schooling.8
How Much Money Are Colleges Giving Out?
Well, that all depends on the school, how many students they have, and how they want to dish out the money. Here in Nashville, Meharry Medical College gave out $10,000 to each of their medical students.9 You read that right—10,000 big ones.
Other schools like Howard University and Bushnell University gave out less. Howard averaged a payment of $834 to nearly 12,000 students.10 And at Bushnell, they gave an average amount of $3,120 to students, with a max of $6,500 for some.11
Long story short? Unlike the government stimulus checks, there’s no way to calculate how much money you qualify for—that’s in the hands of your college or university. Be sure to check in with your school to see if they have an application process to follow or not.
Now, if you’re not a college student and it’s been 15 years since you set foot in a college lecture hall, you’re probably wondering where this cash was back when you were living off of Ramen noodles. Well, we don’t know what to tell you—other than that there wasn’t a global pandemic back then.
How Could a HEERF Grant Impact You?
Okay, so even though this thing isn’t the same as a stimulus check, getting a cut from a HEERF grant could be a really big deal—that is, if you use it in the right way. Aka don’t blow it all on a new wardrobe and late-night trips to Taco Bell.
If you’re coming into some money you didn’t expect thanks to a HEERF grant, here are a couple ways to put it to use:
Pay for School
If you’re trying to save up enough cash to pay for school next semester, this is perfect timing. You can use HEERF grant money to pad your stash of cash before the school wants you to pay up. And when that bill for the next semester comes up, you’ll be able to toss this money at it to help you pay for college. The best part? Being able to pay out of pocket means you won’t even be tempted to take out student loans. Score!
Pay Off Student Loans
If you’ve already taken out student loans there's still good news: You can get a jump start on paying them off with this cash from the HEERF grant. Let’s say you get a HEERF grant and your school gives you $3,000—that can make a huge dent in your student loan debt amount. And honestly, they’re giving you the money with the high hopes that you’ll use it toward your education in some way, so don’t let them down.
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