How to support your students with federal relief funds

How to Support Your Students With Federal Relief Funds
Kirk Daulerio
Kirk Daulerio

May 27, 2021

The new American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocates nearly $40 billion for institutions to invest in student success. Eligible higher education institutions can use their share of these funds in several ways, including to upgrade technology for student retention or to support students throughout their educational journey

If your institution previously received CARES or CRRSAA funding, it is likely eligible to receive ARPA funds, too. As you consider how best to invest these funds, here are some important things to keep in mind:

How Eligible Institutions Can Use ARPA Funding

On May 11, 2021, the Department of Education more than doubled the aid for colleges and universities made available under the previous CARES and CRRSAA relief acts. ARPA provides critical support for institutions educating students most acutely affected by the pandemic. Specifically, it provides more than $10 billion to community colleges, and nearly $9 billion to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and other minority-serving institutions.

Here’s how eligible institutions can invest ARPA relief funds. Keep in mind, you must spend at least as much on emergency financial-aid grants to students as you spent with CARES Act funds last year:

  • Institutions can use ARPA funds for things like new safety improvements, faculty and staff training and payroll, and technology for student retention and persistence
  • Students can utilize ARPA funds for food, housing, childcare, transportation, course materials, and technology

Three Major Shifts in Student Retention and Engagement Practices

2020 was an unprecedented year for higher education. During this time of great disruption, we observed three major shifts in student retention and engagement practices:

Trend 1: The Rise of the Student-Centric Engagement Model. Historically, institutions “drove the bus” when it came to setting a communications strategy. This notion got flipped on its head in COVID-19’s wake as classrooms closed and students went home abruptly — filled with questions and urgently seeking reliable and timely information. Colleges and universities that were already focused on ways to listen to students’ needs at scale faced these challenges head-on. They rapidly provided support via proactive and reactive messaging to deliver the right messages at the right times, and through the right medium.

Meanwhile, institutions that have traditionally taken a siloed engagement approach saw their staff struggle to handle the influx in student inquiries, while mass emails did little to ease students’ concerns. With a slipping grasp on student sentiment, these institutions felt a sense of urgency to adopt new technologies, such as behaviorally intelligent chatbots, to fuel more student-centric engagement models.

Trend 2: Email No Longer Engages Students. While students had more questions than ever before, they weren’t turning to their email inboxes for answers. This isn’t a new phenomenon: Even in “normal circumstances,” Gen Z students — which make up the bulk of college students today — open less than 20% of their emails. When these students do reach out via email, 35% of them come in to your offices after standard business hours. Especially during times of crisis, sending them an email response a day later just isn’t adequate.

Recognizing the importance of meeting students where they are, many institutions have embraced their students’ preferred communication method: Text messaging. 

By enlisting behaviorally intelligent SMS chatbots, colleges and universities can actively listen to students’ sentiments, provide relevant information, answer questions in real time, and route conversations to a human when escalation is appropriate. For example, Saginaw Valley State University’s bot, Coop, sent out text messaging campaigns to check in on students’ well-being during the pandemic, and to find out what may help improve their college experience

Over the course of several campaigns, SVSU found that 95% of incoming questions were handled automatically — saving more than 360 hours of staff time and providing valuable insights for continued improvements.  

Trend 3: An Increased Need for Community and Connection. In 2020, walking to classes with friends, one-on-one conversations over coffee, and social gatherings were instantly replaced by headphones, computer screens, and mute buttons. It’s hard to feel connected when you’re sitting at a computer screen, geographically separated from peers and teachers. During this time, empathetic, meaningful communication with students has become even more critical to fostering a sense of belonging.

By building engagement and a feeling of community, administrators are able to cultivate meaningful, personal relationships with students — which is proven to measurably improve retention rates and student success. These efforts can even start before a student enrolls. Empowering prospects with 24/7 access to information and building trust through conversational engagement helps both initiate and simplify the enrollment process.  

Enabling campus-minded digital communication keeps students involved and guides them in the right direction when they feel lost, even in cases where classes are hybrid or fully remote

Meeting This Unique Moment With AdmitHub

Behaviorally intelligent chatbots are a powerful way to mature your student-centric engagement strategy for increased enrollment, improved retention, and optimized student outcomes. That includes getting relief funding into the hands of the students that need it most. For example, Georgia State University, a long-time AdmitHub partner, is using predictive analytics and aggregate data to identify and communicate with students dealing with account holds, large balances, and other hardships due to the pandemic. This proactive engagement approach has enabled more than 40,000 grants to date and a more equitable distribution of funds.

In our recent webinar, “American Rescue Plan: Supporting Students With Relief Funds,” we examined how GSU has invested their federal funding to achieve long-term student success. The session also provides several tips on the ways you can apply ARPA funding to enhance student engagement and retention at your institution.

Watch the webinar on demand now to explore:

  • How ARPA funds can help you solve admissions, retention, and engagement challenges in 2021 and beyond
  • Ways to use ARPA funding to proactively help your students where they need it most 
  • Ideas for enhancing your existing student engagement strategy to drive student success
  • Real-world results from AdmitHub’s partners who are using federal relief funds to invest in technology solutions

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