Education Department Urges Colleges to Use HEERF Funding for Mental Health Support

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The U.S. Department of Education is encouraging colleges and universities across the country to use Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) to provide or expand existing mental health services for students, faculty, and staff.

The suggested focus comes from new guidance published by the Education Department, which highlights how institutions can invest in mental health support to combat the persistent sense of anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

In September 2021, 73 percent of college presidents surveyed by the American Council on Education said that students’ mental health was a pressing concern on campus. The figure is significantly higher than the 41 percent of presidents who had the same response in April 2020.

“If there is one thing I’ve heard while speaking with college students throughout the nation, it’s been the need for greater mental health supports on campus,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a press release. “We must make sure our colleges and universities have the tools and resources to help students, faculty, and staff heal from the grief, trauma, and anxiety they endured amid the pandemic.”

Services suggested by the department include substance abuse support, suicide prevention training for staff, peer support programs, and mental health hotlines. The guidance also listed several colleges and universities, including several Minority-Serving Institutions, as prime examples of how to enhance mental health services using HEERF. For instance, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College, a tribal college in Wisconsin, made counselors available to students and faculty through a partnership with the mental health platform UWill. North Carolina Central University, a historically Black institution, also created a suicide prevention coordinating committee using pandemic relief funds.

“[The] guidance will equip higher education leaders with promising strategies for how they can use American Rescue Plan dollars to connect students to the services they need and to better support mental health and wellness throughout their campus communities,” Cardona said in the release.