What suburban colleges plan to do with latest COVID-19 relief funds

  • Suburban community colleges are trying to raise awareness of emergency COVID relief funding available to students. Elgin Community College is set to receive $17.5 million in a third round of federal stimulus funding.

      Suburban community colleges are trying to raise awareness of emergency COVID relief funding available to students. Elgin Community College is set to receive $17.5 million in a third round of federal stimulus funding. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Updated 6/2/2021 1:05 PM

Suburban community colleges set to receive millions of dollars more in federal COVID-19 relief funding in the coming months are stepping up efforts to help students in need with tuition costs and other expenses, as well as using the money to mitigate the pandemic's impact on their budgets.

The American Rescue Plan authorized in March provides more than $36 billion in emergency grants, including $10 billion to community colleges, $2.6 billion to historically Black colleges and universities, and $6 billion to Hispanic- and other minority-serving institutions. Illinois' share is about $1.26 billion.


Public and private colleges and universities can use the funds to support students with exceptional needs, including unexpected expenses, such as job loss, food or housing insecurity and transportation, provide academic or mental health supports, discharge debts, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Several suburban colleges are stepping up efforts to disburse funds to students with the most need. Unlike earlier rounds of stimulus funding, this latest allocation can be used to provide emergency aid to international and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA or Dreamers) students.

"We're opening up the emergency grants to all students regardless of citizenship or immigration status," said Kim Pohl, spokeswoman for Harper College in Palatine.

Harper will receive $22.3 million in this third round of pandemic relief funding.

Under the first stimulus round, Harper received $5.5 million, of which roughly $3.4 million was distributed in grants to about 5,200 students. The college received $12.6 million in the second stimulus allocation. With each round, officials have been committing more money than required for direct student aid.

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"We recognize students continue to face significant hardships due to COVID-19 and are committed to providing financial relief so they can stay on track," Pohl said. "We're planning to distribute $7.5 million directly to students."

So far this spring, Harper disbursed $2.6 million to about 3,300 students and officials have reached out to 3,800 more students with exceptional need.

"We're taking into account considerations, including being low-income, first-generation, being a student of color, having a disability, being part of the Women's Program ... we wanted to streamline the process as best we could for students," Pohl said.

College of Lake County in Grayslake will receive $20.5 million in ARP funds.

The college received more than $4.9 million and $11.5 million, respectively, in the first and second rounds of stimulus funding. It has distributed more than $8.6 million in emergency grants to students and disbursements will continue in the summer and fall.

"Applications are still steadily flowing in," said Karen Hlavin, CLC vice president of student development.

College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn will receive about $36 million in this latest round of stimulus funding, of which $18.5 million will go toward helping students with tuition, college President Brian Caputo said.


The college received $9.1 million from the first COVID relief package, of which $4.5 million went to students. Half of the second stimulus installment of $20.6 million also will be awarded in direct aid to students in the coming weeks.

Remaining funds will be used to offset the college's expenses incurred due to the pandemic, including lost revenue, technology costs, such as laptops and hot spots for loan to students, and to purchase safety products, such as personal protective equipment, hand sanitizers and masks, spokeswoman Jennifer Duda said.

Elgin Community College's share of the latest stimulus funding bill is $17.5 million of which 50% is earmarked for students.

In the first two rounds of funding, ECC received $4.9 million and $10.4 million, respectively, and awarded $4.4 million in direct aid to about 5,000 students.

To date, $2 million has been distributed to 2,071 students this spring term, said Kim Wagner, ECC vice president of business and finance.

Officials have seen applications dwindle and are renewing efforts to get more students to take advantage of the free money. Relief funds don't have to be repaid and many students might not realize they qualify for it, Wagner said.

"It is an awareness issue," Wagner said. "There is just a lot of misunderstanding. We've got $1 million waiting to help them and we will have a lot more (coming) around the corner."

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