What community colleges are doing with millions in federal COVID-19 relief funds

Suburban colleges and universities will be receiving millions in federal emergency relief funding to help them and their students weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act authorizes $14 billion for higher education institutions. Roughly half the allocated funds must be distributed to students as cash grants to help pay for housing, food and other essentials. The U.S. Department of Education last week released the online paperwork for colleges to accept the student aid portion. The institutional portion will be released later.

Elgin Community College will receive roughly $4.6 million, of which $2.3 million will be awarded as emergency financial aid to students. The remainder will make up for the college's lost revenue or expenditures incurred as a result of COVID-19, said Kimberly Wagner, ECC vice president of business and finance.

“We are still in discussions on how we can best meet the needs of our students and reach as many students as possible quickly,” Wagner said. “We are looking at the student financial impact survey data as well as enrollment figures. We will communicate out a plan to students very soon.”

Students have been affected financially by the coronavirus pandemic in many ways, ranging from needing to buy technology to keep up with classes at home to potentially losing their jobs.

Harper College in Palatine will use $2.7 million of its roughly $5.5 million allocation for student relief.

“We're currently working to develop a process to determine how to best allocate these funds, as each institution has discretion as to how to award this emergency assistance,” Harper spokeswoman Kim Pohl said. “Eligible expenses may include food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, child care and other expenses related to a student's cost of attendance.”

College of Lake County in Grayslake will receive nearly $5 million.

CLC President Lori Suddick said one factor determining how much money a college receives is the number of enrolled students who are eligible for federal Pell grants, which indicates legislators are concerned about getting help to students with the most need.

“To honor that, we will take that into account when the money is being distributed,” Suddick said. “We want to make sure we are deliberate and intentional and make sure it is equitable.”

Suddick said administrators have been tracking coronavirus-related spending and will likely use the CARES funding to address those expenses and losses first. She said some of the first purchases were for software and technology to get classes online quickly. The college also has spent far more in cleaning products and sanitizer this spring and likely will pay more in employee overtime costs.

“It quickly adds up,” Suddick said.

Harper College in Palatine will use $2.7 million of its roughly $5.5 million in COVID-19 relief funds to help students with emergencies. Daily Herald file photo

COVID-19 relief for higher education

• College of Lake County: $4,973,042

• College of DuPage: $9,100,886

• Elgin Community College: $4,600,718

• Elmhurst College: $3,320,646

• Harper College: $5,526,516

• Lake Forest College: $1,546,268

• McHenry County College: $2,254,053

• North Central College: $2,410,282

• Northern Illinois University: $14,825,179

• Oakton Community College: $2,762,839

• Triton College: $4,211,898

• Waubonsee Community College: $3,198,731

Source: U.S. Department of Education

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