Earlier this month, Provost Chinyere Oparah notified the University that additional federal aid through the U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) would be distributed to over 4,000 students based on financial need determined through FAFSA. This specific grant has been distributed in the past two semesters, with eligible students receiving amounts ranging from $500 to $1,500 to pay for any aspect of university life.
Angelika Williams, assistant vice provost of student financial services, explained the difference between the HEERF Grant and other funding students have received. “The HEERF Grant is the overall federal aid program. CARES Act, CRRSA Act, and ARP are types of HEERF Grants,” she said. “Federal regulations changed the federal requirements for each type of HEERF grant to prioritize need, allowable expenses, and student eligibility.”
Oparah outlined the importance of this grant in an email to the Foghorn. “I know that funding is critical to our most economically vulnerable students as they continue to feel the deep impacts of the pandemic,” she wrote. “This support provides students relief for living expenses as well as academic needs such as textbooks and materials.”
Jade Penafort, a senior sociology major, has received the HEERF grant before. “Last year, we were able to use the money for tuition which allowed us to pay for other pressing personal issues,” she said. “It was great to relieve even the slightest bit of stress about money.” This year, Penafort said she is using the grant to avoid asking her parents for money as “the pandemic has made things tight.”
Junior nursing student Norman Feng similarly said, “Last time, I was able to dedicate the money towards paying my off-campus rent for a month.” This semester, he plans to use the money for school materials. “Because educational materials can be extremely costly, especially online programs, these funds will help me alleviate my financial stress and allow me to buy these required items,” said Feng.
While Feng expressed his gratitude for the grant, he had criticisms as well. “Since this is a private school in the middle of such an expensive city, I believe that the University could increase the amount of their emergency funding because the current amount provided can really only be used for materials rather than tuition as a whole for most people.”
Sophomore French studies major, Price Little, said, “$500 is barely half of most people’s rent with multiple roommates in SF, and it’s barely anything in the grand scheme. I wish it were more than that just for those who have more insecurity and higher costs of living.”
However, these criticisms are out of the University’s control. As stated on the myUSF website, the University calculates the grant amount each student will receive “based on current enrollment status and on Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as currently reflected on the 2021-2022 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).”
Over the course of the last three semesters, students struggled to communicate with the Office of Financial Aid. In an email to the Foghorn, Williams wrote, “The communication between students and the Office of Financial Aid has improved this year by increasing the number of financial aid workshops and webinars as well as continuing to prioritize a 48-hour turnaround on emails.” She noted that “additionally, all voice messages are returned the same day.”
Williams outlined the distribution plan for the grant. “The initial distribution of grants took place on August 27, 2021, for the first prioritized group of students. The next prioritized group of students received funds and notifications on September 17, 2021, and September 20, 2021.”
Oparah said she recognized current financial instability and is focusing on helping students as much as possible. “Since coming to USF three months ago, I have been working with the Strategic Enrollment Management team and campus partners in Student Life to provide as much financial support as we can through the HEERF Grant, the Trustee’s [donation to the] COVID-19 Relief Fund, and the Student Emergency Fund,” she said.
Looking to the future, Oparah said, “USF has allocated funding from HEERF grants to distribute additional funding to eligible students for the spring semester. We will communicate the plan for that distribution before the holiday break so students can plan accordingly.”