Thorough and proactive examination finds all ACC requirements follow federal guidelines
Austin Community College District (ACC) is proactively evaluating the disbursement of federal COVID-19 relief funds following a concern reported at the Department of Education about employees who were also students and how colleges and universities across the nation dispersed stimulus funds to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities were awarded federal funds to support college operations and provide financial relief to students impacted by the pandemic. ACC promoted the availability of Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) and developed an application process aimed to assist all students who demonstrated need by closely following federal guidelines.
“I am immensely proud of the work ACC did during COVID-19, from financial support and moving teaching and learning online to providing tech support and operating food drives to better meet the needs of our students. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw many members of our communities struggle to make ends meet. Many people faced unexpected life challenges. We never know what is happening in any one person’s life. Our intent is to support them where we can within the guidelines provided,” says ACC Chancellor Dr. Richard Rhodes. “Our goal was to get students financial support to stay on track and reach their educational goals. In the end, we saw more students persist semester to semester, and more students graduate.”
According to a rule released by the Department of Education, guidelines for federal stimulus funds were developed to expedite the disbursement of funds to anyone enrolled at college who was negatively impacted by the COVID–19 national emergency. The guidelines instructed institutions to distribute funds the most expedient way possible and allow for maximum flexibility of the stimulus funds.
The college established a disbursement process with checks and balances that ensured applications were reviewed by an unbiased review committee. ACC worked closely with experts at the Department of Education and followed federal guidelines for eligibility to disburse for any student who had a demonstrated need based on the impact of COVID-19. Those requirements, set forth by federal guidelines, include:
- You must have been an ACC student taking college credit, continuing education, dual credit, or adult education courses anytime since March 13, 2020 (the date the President declared the COVID-19 national emergency).
- You must indicate on the HEERF application that you have been financially impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Your related expenses must have occurred on or after March 13, 2020.
- You can apply for and receive HEERF once each semester.
The final internal review found that from April 2020 through January 2023, ACC disbursed approximately $70,690,000 in Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds to more than 20,000 students. Of those students, 115 were also ACC full-time employees. A majority of ACC students are employed. It’s not uncommon for ACC students to work for the college to gain real-world experience. Also, many full-time employees continue their educational journey while working at ACC.
“We’re proud to have supported so many students during a very challenging time, but we also recognize that there is a heavy responsibility tied to these funds. We will always ensure ACC remains a good steward of taxpayer and federal dollars,” says Neil Vickers, ACC executive vice chancellor of Finance & Administration. “We established a review committee to provide a check-and-balance system. Our review is ongoing. To date, we have found that all recipients at ACC were ACC students, and all met the guidelines set forth by the federal government.”
The college continues to evaluate its applications and disbursements. The college has a standard procedure for investigations, which will be followed. This information will remain confidential per FERPA laws and other federal rules.
To view all ACC HEERF-related reports, visit ACC’s CARES Act web page.