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Howard Community College uses $1.6 million in COVID relief funds to pay off outstanding debt for some students

Howard Community College has spent $1.64 million in federal CARES Act relief funds to pay off outstanding debt for more than 2,000 students.

In an effort to relieve students of the financial hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the college concentrated its debt assistance on students with outstanding debt from the start of the pandemic to the end of the summer 2021 session, which recently concluded, according to a news release.

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Maheen Ahmed, 23, is in her second year at the college and plans to transfer to the University of Maryland, College Park to study information systems and economics.

The Ellicott City resident said she is relieved knowing that her outstanding debt has been paid.

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“It gives me so much hope that I can move forward and not be held by financial [means],” Ahmed said in an interview. “Not having the stress of having debt really lets me focus on my education and being here at school.”

Once balances were cleared, each student received a notification that any holds on their account were removed, allowing them to acquire transcripts, register for classes or transfer to a four-year college or university without owing any funds to the college.

These students can now focus their personal funding on important, everyday living expenses, the release states.

“We’ve heard from many of our students about how the pandemic has negatively impacted them and that they are having some financial hardships and are struggling to meet some of their everyday basic needs,” Chris Heston, associate vice president of finance, said in an interview. “We just felt that paying off the debt for these students would have such a transformative meaning for the students that we decided as a college to proceed with doing this.”

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In March 2020, Congress passed the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which included the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. The fund provides support to eligible students who have been impacted by the pandemic. This relief funding was designed to provide emergency financial assistance to help students with course materials, food insecurities, housing and technology.

To receive the emergency funding, Howard Community College submitted the required certification agreeing to use no less than 50% of the funding as emergency financial aid grants to students. A second supplemental award through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act in December included HEERF II funding. A third supplemental award, HEERF III, was included in the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law March 11, according to the college’s website.

In addition to helping students with outstanding debt, the college awarded nearly $5.8 million in federal funding to 4,480 students to support their college education amid the pandemic.

The college plans to spend $4 million for students in the fall semester and another $4 million for students in the spring semester.

“These students are among the most impacted by the pandemic, the fact that they weren’t able to pay their bills,” Heston said of paying off the student debt. “Giving them this fresh start to move forward really is going to have a positive impact on their lives and them being able to continue their academic or career journeys or wherever their path may lead them was something the college was looking to do to support our students.”

Howard Community College is fully operational for its upcoming fall semester, with classes offered face-to-face on campus, hybrid, scheduled remote, and flexible online. Fall classes start Saturday.

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