Ubiquitous distance learning, a necessary response to the pandemic, has ushered in a new era in higher education delivery. As schools transition from quickly assembled instruction arrangements to permanent, sustainable online and hybrid solutions, funds from the federal relief bills can help make digital transformation initiatives more achievable.

Across three relief packages, $77 billion in Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEERF) aid was allocated to provide financial aid to students and higher education institutions to help with new expenses and revenue losses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, the deadline for the HEERF performance period was extended to June 30, 2023.

How you can use HEERF funds for technology in support of engaging distance learning and high-priority cybersecurity

Tech That Helps Take the Distance Out of Learning

Technology is vital to successful and satisfying remote/hybrid learning experiences for students. Faculty members also need the right technology to create engaging learning experiences in different modalities.

Some of these areas where we are currently helping other institutions include:

  • High-quality audiovisual (A/V) equipment and its associated IT labor: First and foremost, students need to be able to clearly see, hear and participate in class – no matter how classes are held. They can’t do that if the cameras, microphones, speakers and computers that are supposed to be connecting them are outdated or nonexistent.
  • Synchronous web conferencing system: To further enhance the classroom experience, students should be able to use video streaming and live chat to remotely attend class and interact in real-time.
  • Video platform service: Some students will prefer to participate asynchronously all the time. They must be able to search, access and watch recorded content easily.
  • Online course platform: A learning management system (LMS) with all course content and materials should be in place for both online and on-ground programs to access.
  • Electronic proctoring technology: Your school must have a secure way to administer assessments and ensure their academic integrity.
  • Remote connectivity: To ensure students can always access the digital classroom, your institution must consider increasing its internet bandwidth, providing redundant internet connections and offering loaner laptops to students when needed.
  • 24/7, on-demand tech support: If an online or hybrid learner has a technical issue, your school must have the capacity to help them resolve it quickly – anytime, anywhere and through any modality.

Tech to Harden Campus System Defenses

While campus networks have long been a target for cyberattacks, the shift to remote and online learning has increased the number and severity of cyberattacks on institutions to an alarming level. With technology to address gaps in remote learning security as one of the allowable expenses under HEERF, these are some purchases we recommend:

  • Detect and identify malicious activity by installing threat detection tools, such as firewalls and loss prevention software.
  • Endpoint Protection Platform (EPP), otherwise known as anti-virus software, on devices to detect and prevent file-based malware and malicious activity, and to provide remediation capabilities to respond to security incidents.
  • Prevent video conference hijacking by updating or upgrading video conference software.

What Expenditures Are and Are Not Allowed

Among the allowed institutional uses of the funds are technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, as EdTech Magazine explains:

  • Reimbursement for One-to-One Programs: Did your higher education institution purchase technologies such as computers and hotspots to donate (or loan) to students on or after March 13, 2020? If so, your school can receive reimbursement for this equipment.
  • Emergency Financial Aid for Students: At least 50 percent of the funds each institution receives must go toward emergency student financial aid for expenses related to COVID-19 disruptions. Eligible expenses include technology.
  • Distance Learning Tech: This includes not only computers, devices and AV equipment but also online licensing fees, software, internet and IT equipment.
  • Online Program Management (OPM):Although the CARES Act does not cover contractors, many colleges and universities use an OPM provider for their distance learning platforms and learning management systems. They also use OPMs for student recruitment. In these cases, funds can cover a per-student fee to an OPM vendor. It cannot, however, pay for recruitment activities by OPM providers or any other contractor.
  • Security: This can potentially include technology purchased to address gaps in remote learning security.

There are also limitations on how HEERF funds can be spent. These expenditures are not allowed:

  • Contractors for the provision of pre-enrollment recruitment activities, marketing, or recruitment
  • Endowments
  • Capital outlays associated with facilities related to athletics, sectarian instruction, or religious worship
  • Senior administrator or executive salaries, benefits, bonuses, contracts, incentives
  • Stock buybacks, shareholder dividends, capital distributions, and stock options; or any other cash or other benefits for a senior administrator or executive.

Relief Is in Sight for Technology Spending

Collegis Education has worked with a wide variety of institutions on the deployment of online and hybrid programs, as well as the management of their technology ecosystems. As you take advantage of the availability of HEERF funds, we have the IT resources and expertise necessary to advise you on where to make investments that will pay off for your school’s mission, students and staff.

Author: Collegis Education staff

Collegis is passionate about education and driven by the technology that keeps institutions moving forward.