In the wake of the global health crisis of 2020, the American government has approved several stimulus packages. The stimulus package of March 2021, dubbed “The American Rescue Plan of 2021,” will pump billions of dollars into the American economy. A significant portion of that money will go into the country’s education system, with funds earmarked for institutions of higher education.
Read on to learn what the American Rescue Plan holds in store for universities and colleges, and how they can use those funds to improve higher education in the US.
The state of higher education in the US
As a result of the devastating economic impact of the public health crisis of 2020, 22 states have cut a combined $1.9 billion for higher education for the fiscal year ending in June 2021. To mitigate those funding losses, public colleges and universities have laid off over 300,000 workers.
Due to lockdowns and other health restrictions, institutions of higher education have lost revenue from athletics programs, parking, and housing. The costs of testing and protective measures to prevent the spread of illness have also taken their toll.
Students feel the financial strain, too. Many of them lost jobs, or their family members lost jobs, leaving them unable to pay tuition. Undergraduate enrollment overall has dropped 4%, with community colleges seeing the largest decrease at 10%.
The American Rescue Plan and higher education
In March 2021, President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan of 2021 stimulus package. Out of that money, nearly $40 billion was earmarked for higher education. That money will go to private and public institutions.
The $40 billion will go into the Higher Education Relief Fund (HEERF), which was established in March 2020 under the CARES Act.
Under HEERF, there are several programs for colleges and universities:
- Institutional portion for public and non-profit institutions
- Student aid portion for public and non-profit institutions
- Historically Black colleges and universities
- Tribally controlled colleges and universities
- Supplemental support under the American Rescue Plan
- Proprietary institutions grant funds for students
Stipulations of the American Rescue Plan
Under the law, public and private non-profit institutions receiving funds must spend at least as much on emergency financial aid grants for students as they spent in 2020 with funding from the CARES Act. On a related note, colleges and universities must conduct direct outreach to financial aid applicants about the opportunity to receive an adjustment to their aid packages if they or their family members have lost their job.
Additionally, institutions must spend a portion of those funds implementing evidence-based practices to monitor and suppress the public health threat within guidelines issued by health authorities.
What can schools spend the funding on?
Aside from the funding stipulations, universities and colleges have some leverage as to how they spend this money.
They can use it for:
- Defraying expenses due to the pandemic, including new safety improvements, training for faculty and staff, payroll, and lost revenue
- Technology, including solutions to facilitate distance learning
What technology is the right choice for universities and colleges?
In the spring of 2020, thousands of universities and colleges across the country shut down, forcing students to leave campus. Classes became online-only affairs.
As the public health crisis wore on over the summer, higher education institutions had difficult decisions to make about reopening in the fall of 2020. Some schools opted to welcome students back to campus, with stricter health regulations and frequent testing. Approximately 600 schools chose to offer a mix of online and in-person classes.
Ultimately, some schools saw the risk to their students and staff as too high to reopen to in-person classes. For instance, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill chose to close its campus after only a week, shifting all courses online.
For colleges and universities struggling to offer remote learning, an investment in a unified communications platform makes sense. A unified communications platform is a set of communication (telephony, chat, and video conference) and collaboration tools (file-sharing and document editing) available in a single solution. They also integrate with learning management systems, which are the backbone of virtual courses.
How unified communications platforms can improve distance learning
Unified communications platforms enable instructors to deliver distance learning courses and students to have an engaging experience. Here’s how:
- Students and instructors can use it on any device
- Instructors can teach synchronously and record their lessons
- Students and instructors can communicate through multiple channels
Students and instructors can use a unified communications platform on any device
Today’s students feel comfortable with using apps on their smartphones and tablets. They might not even have access to a laptop or desktop.
Market-leading unified communications platforms are accessible for students and instructors from any device. RingCentral’s virtual learning solution offers one-click video and audio from any browser or through the RingCentral app.
Instructors can teach synchronously and record their lessons
Unified communications platforms give instructors flexibility. They can teach synchronously through the video conference functionality, then record those lessons so students can watch them later.
Thanks to an integration with leading learning management systems, RingCentral enables instructors to post recorded lessons to their LMS, making it easy for students to find.
Students and instructors can communicate through multiple channels
Another way in which unified communications platforms are flexible is that they allow students and instructors to communicate through multiple channels. Unified communications platforms offer telephony, video conference, and chat functionality.
Students can send each other messages to maintain social connections and to collaborate on assignments. Additionally, they can communicate with instructors through chat, video conference, and telephony. Even if students and instructors can’t be on campus, it gives everyone a sense of continuity and familiarity in an uncertain, confusing time.
RingCentral’s unified communications platform creates an engaging distance learning experience
As colleges and universities begin recovering, investments in technology are logical choices to enable an engaging distance learning experience. RingCentral’s unified communications platform offers flexibility and reliability. It’s easy for students and instructors to access the platform, it offers synchronous teaching, and it allows students and instructors to connect in and outside of class. To learn more, get a demo.
Originally published Jun 16, 2021, updated Jul 11, 2021