An EdTrust in Texas deep dive into the pandemic funding awarded to postsecondary students and recommendations moving forward

In response to the pandemic, the federal government made one of the most substantial investments ever in the nation’s colleges and universities through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). Since 2020, Texas institutions have received more than $6.5 billion, of which $2.5 billion was required to be distributed directly to students in the form of emergency aid.

EdTrust in Texas crunched the numbers to see where this emergency aid went and analyzed the implications of this historic investment.

We followed up with focus groups and surveys to learn what Texas students and practitioners felt about their experiences with this infusion of relief funding.

Who Received Federal Emergency Aid Funding in Texas? A Closer Look at the Pandemic Funding Awarded to Postsecondary Students

Executive Summary:

  • More than 1 million Texas students received federal emergency aid through HEERF, nearly half (47%) of all students statewide based on enrollment figures reported by institutions.
  • Despite having similar average amounts of unmet financial need, Texas students enrolled at public two-year colleges were less likely to receive emergency aid — and received smaller average award amounts — than students enrolled at public four-year universities.
  • Across all institutions, Black students receiving aid were awarded higher average amounts of emergency aid than other racial/ethnic student groups.
  • More than 450,000 Pell recipients — nearly 80% of all Pell recipients statewide — received emergency aid and were awarded significantly higher average amounts than non-Pell recipients. Nearly one-third of all non-Pell recipients — over 404,000 students — also received emergency aid.
  • Across sectors, improved retention rates at the institution level were correlated with larger percentages of students receiving emergency aid. This correlation was consistently stronger for institutions with higher percentages of Pell recipients.

Read the Brief

Explore Our Interactive Texas HEERF Distribution Dashboard

Straight from the Source: Texas Students and Practitioners Share Their Experiences With Higher Ed Emergency Relief Funds

Following this quantitative policy brief, we wanted to better understand the context and decisions of community college leaders and practitioners who navigated the pandemic and distributed federal emergency relief funding and the experiences of students who received it. To gather insights directly from community college administrators and students, we conducted focus groups and disseminated an accompanying survey and had the following key finding:

  1. Even at Institutions with Pre-Pandemic Emergency Aid Programs, Practitioners Faced New Challenges Administering HEERF Aid
  2. As Their Aid Determination and Distribution Methodologies Evolved, Practitioners Developed New Ways to Assess Student Need
  3. Practitioners Relied Heavily on Email and Word of Mouth to Promote the Availability of Aid, While Students Preferred More Targeted and Direct Outreach Strategies
  4. Students and Practitioners Reported Using Emergency Aid Primarily to Cover Non-Tuition Costs
  5. While Students and Practitioners Emphasized the Necessity of Emergency Aid, They Attributed Postsecondary Retention to the Combined Impact of Direct aid and Other Student Support Services
  6. Limited Data Infrastructure and Capacity Hindered Most Institutions’ Ability to Assess the Impact of Emergency Aid on Student Success Measures

Based on our qualitative analysis of stakeholder responses, this brief spotlights challenges that various Texas institutions faced and the creative ways in which these institutions confronted them and offers recommendations organized around key findings.

Read the Brief

For more information, contact Andrea Thurston, a senior higher education policy analyst at EdTrust in Texas.