CARES Act - Lessons learned: Insights on emergency funding, student need, and the impact of the CARES Act

March 2021

COVID-19 has exacerbated systemic and institutional barriers to equity, leaving some students struggling to afford college or facing mounting debt burdens.


The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), with support from the TIAA Institute, has conducted research to identify and strengthen the evidence for innovative financial aid strategies designed to improve college affordability and manage student debt. Teams from nine APLU institutions were selected as Affordability Fellows to investigate best practices and promising strategies for improving financial aid effectiveness and equity in the longer term. The research focused on universities’ financial aid innovations, emergency grants to students funded by the CARES Act, and other strategies to address student needs during the pandemic and beyond.

Key Insights
The pandemic has amplified the class, race, and ethnicity inequalities, barriers and unmet basic needs that disadvantaged students have grappled with for years.
But the pandemic also has inspired generosity from fellow students, staff, faculty, alumni, and members of the community.
Universities have engaged with students to create student-focused policies supportive of student needs.
Including students in shared governance and decision-making can help transformative efforts continue to serve students well in the years ahead.

The authors gathered qualitative data from a group discussion with representatives from the nine Fellow institutions; via survey research; and through interviews with senior professionals from Fellow institutions’ offices of financial aid, enrollment, academic affairs and student affairs.


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