After receiving $4,974,394 in aid through the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, act, officials with Amarillo College spoke about the use of those funds, as well as the additional federal funds the college received through legislation at the end of 2020 during the most recent Board of Regents meeting.
According to previous reports from the Amarillo Globe-News, funds received by a higher education institution for COVID-19-related aid should be split in half, with at least 50 percent of the funds going to students through “emergency financial aid grants to help cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations” during the ongoing pandemic.
Out of its initial assistance, nearly $2.4 million went to aid for Amarillo College students, serving as an incentive for completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, as well as giving students the opportunity to further apply for emergency aid.
During the meeting, Amarillo College President Russell Lowery-Hart said the college received more funds through the federal government, half of which will go toward the college investing in new programs. Like the initial round of aid, the other half, approximately $2.4 million once again, will go toward student emergency aid.
But unlike the previous round of funds, the college has a shorter time to dispense the funds to its student population, Cara Crowley, the vice president of strategic initiatives for Amarillo College, said.
“We got another $2.4 million with CARES Act 2. These funds, we don’t have another year to expend them,” she said during the meeting. “They must be expended by July 22. We are on track to get rid of them this spring.”
So far, the college has given out almost $1.3 million to a little over 1,500 students, Crowley said. This gives the college about $1.1 million left to distribute to students through the rest of the spring and, if there are funds left over, in the summer.
Like the initial round of relief, the college is using the same needs-based online assessment to determine if a student is eligible for this funding. According to previous reports, this online assessment filled out by students gives college officials information about if a particular student has housing needs, food insecurity, as well as their status on essential needs like health care, childcare and technology.
For each student who qualifies for the funding, an employee of the college will call them and verify and make a recommendation on how much funds to give the student, ranging from $200 to $2,000.
Crowley said the college will not only give them financial assistance, but also help the students connect them to services, whether it be through the college or through area organizations.
“We have set up a really strong support system because it’s more than just giving students financial assistance,” she said. “We’ve got to connect them with services to keep them in school.”
One particular piece of data from the individuals who have already received assistance this spring stood out to Crowley, she said.
“I think the number that really struck the most with me when I was looking at the data is we have 101 students who are homeless out of those 1,500 students. But the hardest part of these 101 students, 69 of those students were housing insecure in the fall,” she said. “We have connected them to the city of Amarillo for housing. Half of those students we have been able to place into housing. The other half are in temporary housing that we are working with on our own emergency aid funding that’s institutional to help them get through until we can connect them to full housing assistance with the city … I think it speaks to the real need that continues in the city of Amarillo with COVID.”
Lowery-Hart said data has shown that approximately 75 percent of the students who received CARES Act funding in the fall came back to school in the spring. The students are those who are vulnerable and the most at risk for dropping out.
Helping these students out is what Lowery-Hart believes is one of the foundations of the college, he said.
“It is what the culture of caring is about. It’s why we are a top 10 school in the country because we have figured out how to link our students to support in the community, to the emergency aid supports that we have in the college and now with this CARES Act, to help them manage the financial catastrophe that COVID has placed them in,” he said. “My biggest fear about COVID is that there would be a whole generation of students we could lose permanently. This emergency aid money has allowed us to keep them in school and on task. We already see they are graduating and matriculating either into WT or into a living wage job. If we didn’t have those resources, they would be lost.”
For more information about Amarillo College, visit https://www.actx.edu.