In March 2021, the American government passed one of the largest stimulus bills in history, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Its goal was to pump billions of dollars into the American economy, which has been ravaged by the public health crisis that began in 2020. A significant chunk of that money will go to the American higher education system.
This funding raises important questions: how much are schools eligible for, and what can they use these funds for? In this post, we’ll explore whether you can use these funds to upgrade your school’s communications system.
A summary of the American Rescue Plan Act for higher education
The American Rescue Plan Act earmarks almost $40 billion to public and private non-profit universities and colleges in the US.
Unlike the funding for K-12 schools, the money for higher education institutions goes directly to schools. It’s distributed through the Higher Education Relief Fund (HEERF), which was established in March 2020 under the CARES Act.
Here’s how the money will be allocated:
- 75% of the funds will be awarded to schools based on each institution’s relative share of enrollment of Federal Pell Grant recipients who weren’t enrolled exclusively in distance learning courses before the spring of 2020. The funds will be split evenly between total enrollment and full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment
- 23% of the funds will be awarded to schools based on each institution’s relative share of enrollment of non-Federal Pell Grant students who weren’t enrolled exclusively in distance learning courses before the spring of 2020. Again, this amount will be split evenly between total enrollment and FTE enrollment
- 2% of the funds will be awarded to schools based on each school’s relative share of Federal Pell Grant recipients who were enrolled exclusively in distance learning courses before the spring of 2020, with this sum being split evenly between total enrollment and FTE enrollment
How can schools use these funds?
The good thing about the American Rescue Plan funding is that it’s flexible. Schools have a fair amount of leeway. There are a few stipulations that they must follow, though:
- Public and private non-profit institutions must spend at least as much on emergency financial aid grants for students as they spent in 2020 with funding from the CARES Act
- These institutions have to 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
- Institutions must spend a portion of funds implementing evidence-based practices to monitor and suppress the public health threat within guidelines issued by health authorities
There are a couple of categories that experts suggest would be a good use of funds:
- Defraying expenses due to the health crisis, including new safety improvements, training for faculty and staff, payroll, and lost revenue
- Technology, including communications systems upgrades
The need for upgrading the communications system at your school
This funding comes at a particularly difficult time for American colleges and universities. Budget cuts, revenue losses, and decreases in enrollments have all hurt schools.
As the higher education system inches toward recovery, leaders have some difficult decisions to make. They’re faced with a complex situation on campus: aging telecommunications infrastructure, cybersecurity threats, the need for better collaboration tools, and the pressure to increase cloud adoption.
They need to invest in modern, secure solutions that enable greater collaboration between students, staff, and faculty. A unified communications platform that runs in the cloud fits these criteria.
A unified communications platform is a set of communication (telephony, chat, and video conference) and collaboration (file-sharing and document editing) tools in a single solution. In the higher education space, this technology integrates with learning management systems for even greater utility.
Why a unified communications platform is a good investment for schools
Here’s why unified communications platforms represent an excellent investment for colleges and universities:
- They enable students to learn in a secure environment
- Students and instructors can communicate via any device
- They’re flexible; instructors can teach synchronously and record lessons for later viewing
- They offer multiple communication channels
Unified communications platforms enable a secure learning environment
One of the biggest cybersecurity problems universities faced in 2020 was cyberattacks during distance learning classes.
Choosing a secure cloud communications platform prevents these disturbing attacks. RingCentral’s highly secure cloud communications platform features seven levels of security, 24/7 monitoring, and a 99.999% uptime guarantee.
Students and instructors can use it on any device
Another benefit of a leading unified communications platform is that students and instructors can use it on any device. Today’s students feel very comfortable on smartphones and tablets and might not have access to laptops.
RingCentral’s cloud communications platform offers one-click audio and video from any browser. Students and instructors can also join or start a class from the RingCentral app.
Instructors can teach synchronously and record lessons for later viewing
Cloud communications platforms offer flexible course delivery options. With RingCentral’s unified communications platform, instructors can teach live and record their lessons. Then, they can post them to a learning management system. RingCentral’s integration with top LMS makes it easy for students to find the materials they need.
Unified communications platforms offer multiple communication channels
Cloud communications platforms give students and instructors several ways to communicate with one another. They can talk to each other through phone calls, instant messaging, and videos. Students can collaborate on projects, while instructors can hold virtual office hours.
At a time when there’s still uncertainty and confusion, keeping open lines of communication between faculty and students creates a sense of familiarity and continuity. Even if no one is on campus, students and faculty can still connect to one another outside of class.
Upgrade your communications system with RingCentral’s unified communications platform
RingCentral’s unified communications platform connects students and instructors for an engaging remote learning experience. It’s secure and flexible, enabling students and instructors to use it on any device, allowing instructors to teach synchronously and record their lessons, and offering multiple communication channels. For more information, get a demo.
Originally published Jun 28, 2021, updated Jun 21, 2021