INDIANAPOLIS – It’s neither easy nor cheap to be a student.
Take Celia Ward and Marisa Wilson for example. Both are elementary education majors at Indianapolis University. They are full-time students with two part-time jobs each and a large student debt.
“I probably have $50,000 in loans right now,” Ward said.
Wilson added, “I have about $20,000 in loans.”
But then, in January, every UIndy student received an email from Kori Vitangeli, Vice President of Student Affairs. The post announced the availability of “limited financial aid funds available for undergraduate and graduate students who have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus.”
The money available was part of the federal government’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). As of 2020, three separate COVID relief bills have collectively provided $76.2 billion to colleges, universities and trade schools across the country.
In Indiana, $1.3 billion was donated to educational institutions here. Accepting HEERF money came with certain conditions. There were specific dollar amounts that schools had to share with students.
For UIndy, the total federal emergency aid available to students was more than $11.8 million. Both Ward and Wilson applied, but neither was approved for a grant.
“It was kind of like they took all that money for themselves,” Wilson said.
What the two students noticed was that more of the federal relief money was spent by the university. These are “institutional funds”. For UIndy, it was $14.7 million, and the university could have converted that money into additional scholarships for students.
In fact, a spokesperson for the US Department of Education told CBS4, “(Schools have been) strongly encouraged…to use their institutional funds for additional (student) assistance.”
Now, UIndy has used its HEERF funds for a number of logical COVID-related expenses. $700,000 was used to develop distance learning capability. Another $780,000 was spent on emergency student housing. $1 million was spent on COVID testing, contact tracing and other virus protection measures.
But most of UIndy’s HEERF institutional funds went to pay themselves. The colossal sum of $9.4 million went straight into the university’s coffers to ‘replace lost income’ when its students withdrew from classes, housing contracts and meal plans due to the pandemic . It was a way for UIndy to raise money for services it didn’t provide.
A UIndy spokesperson notes that the school added $500,000 to the money it distributed to students as emergency grants, but where that money came from has not been disclosed.
CBS4 wants to emphasize two important points here. What UIndy did was perfectly legal under the rules for using HEERF money. And other schools in Indiana have done similar things.
Purdue University deposited $8.7 million of its HEERF funds to cover the cost of refunds it paid out to students. Ball State University did the same for $8.5 million. Indiana University used federal funds to offset $14.1 million in “lost state credits.”
Now, online university Purdue Global has broken that practice by distributing more than half of the HEERF funds it has received, or nearly $25 million in total, to its students.
But, CBS4 discovered that just a The Indiana school gave its students the lion’s share of all HEERF: Ivy Tech Community College dollars.
The school is the largest community college in the county with some 170,000 students spread across its 19 campuses.
Ivy Tech CFO Dominick Chase explained, “We immediately got to work trying to figure out how we could get that money (HEERF) to the students because we knew they needed it badly.”
Student Tracy Garrett is just one of 71,000 Ivy Tech students to have won an emergency scholarship. After years of working in education, she decided to get a degree and became a full-time student. But in January, Garrett was struggling to pay his bills. Ivy Tech quickly organized a $500 emergency grant.
Garrett said, “Without that money, things probably would have been turned off.”
The minimum amount of federal relief dollars Ivy Tech had to share with students was $111 million. But officials added to that $27 million in its institutional funds for a total of $138 million, just over half of its total HEERF.
But Ivy Tech didn’t stop there.
Another $1.4 million in federal funds was spent on a laptop loan program.
“We haven’t turned away any students. We had to go back and buy more laptops,” Chase said.
And if internet access was an issue for a student, Ivy Tech gave them a Mi-Fi device that cost the school an additional $86,000.
One of the biggest educational hurdles during the pandemic was the books and other course materials needed for classes. Ivy Tech officials found that 65% of its students didn’t buy the books. Thus, this year and next year, all course materials for students are freecosting the school $23.4 million.
In addition, $500,000 has been invested in a distance tutoring program to help students who may be struggling.
Add it all up, over 60% of all HEERF dollars received by Ivy Tech were used to directly benefit students. This is, by far, the most dedicated and student-focused expenditure of pandemic relief funds by an Indiana school that CBS4 could find.
Chase explained, “We were really focused on our guiding principle: ‘Let’s help students as much as we can’.”
If you’re wondering how other colleges and universities in Indiana have allocated their HEERF funds, below is a spreadsheet with details of the 48 Hoosier schools that got the most disaster relief funds. pandemic.
- * Did not provide the total number of students receiving emergency scholarships.
- *1 Spokesperson Dennis Brown explains, “Notre Dame did not request or receive funds because we believed other schools or organizations might be in greater need of such assistance.
- *2 Did not provide complete data on student emergency scholarships.
- *3 Does not respond to requests for complete data on student emergency grants.
- *4 When CBS4 requested data, the senior director of content and communications wrote, “We are unable to provide any information beyond what is on the (university’s) webpage.” Site data was incomplete.
- *5 Does not respond to data requests. The information on the college website is incomplete.
- *6 President Dr. Rebecca Stoltzfus referred CBS4 to a page on the college’s website, but the information was incomplete.
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