Use COVID-19 relief money to address mental health, Ed Dept urges colleges

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday urged colleges to use federal coronavirus relief money to help remedy student and employee mental health challenges, which it said have been exacerbated by the pandemic.  
  • The department published guidance outlining potential ways to use federal aid to address these issues, such as starting up crisis hotlines or suicide prevention programs. 
  • Institutions can also invest the funding into support for basic needs, such as food and housing. A lack of basic needs heavily contributes to poor mental health, the agency said. 

Dive Insight:

Congress earmarked about $76 billion in coronavirus relief for colleges across three spending packages. The most recent piece of legislation was President Joe Biden’s hallmark American Rescue Plan passed in March 2021, which set aside about $40 billion for colleges.

While colleges could use some of this funding to defray institutional costs related to the pandemic, they needed to apply a portion to directly help students.

The Education Department has touted wide-ranging potential uses for the money. In January, it also said it would send an extra $198 million in American Rescue Plan funding to community colleges and institutions in rural areas with high numbers of low-income students. 

How colleges spent the money has been the subject of keen interest — the federal government requires them to report this information quarterly and annually. 

Thursday’s announcement highlights opportunities for spending the funding that colleges may not have considered. 

It drew attention to mental health-related programs colleges have stood up with the federal aid. 

University of California, Riverside, added “24/7 crisis support” for staff who remained on campus during the pandemic. 

Sinclair Community College, in Ohio, hired a new social worker who worked with more than 380 students in fall 2021. 

And University of Texas at San Antonio expanded telehealth significantly, ensuring all-day online counseling for in-need students.  

“If there is one thing I’ve heard while speaking with college students throughout the nation, it’s been the need for greater mental health supports on campus,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “We must make sure our colleges and universities have the tools and resources to help students, faculty, and staff heal from the grief, trauma, and anxiety they endured amid the pandemic.”

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