On March 28, when Loyola students received notice of the amount of Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) they had received, many students found it was less than what they had expected.
“I’m getting less than half of what I received last time,” Chris Mattix, a first-year graduate student, said.
In late February, Loyola announced it would once again be distributing HEERF for the spring 2022 semester, according to an email sent to students.
HEERF Funds, originating from the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act of March 2020, are emergency financial aid grants that have been distributed to collegiate students across the country since the beginning of the pandemic.
John Campbell, the head of the Bursar’s Office at Loyola, told The Phoenix students received less money this time around because more students applied for and received HEERF funding than in past semesters.
Campbell, who has been working as the Bursar for Loyola since 2003, said he has been extensively involved in the process of distributing HEERF funds once the university started receiving this federal aid nearly two years ago.
Campbell said the Bursar’s Office, Financial Aid Office, and several other departments across the university have collaborated together to distribute HEERF amounts to students.
In an email sent to The Phoenix, Campbell said 9,300 students had received HEERF Grants in the spring 2022 semester, compared to 8,100 students in the fall 2021 semester.
Anastazja Machl, a double major in music and theology, said she has applied for HEERF Grants each time they have been made available to students at Loyola.
Machl said she has primarily used the funding for living expenses each semester, instead of using the amounts toward her tuition costs.
The amount of students applying for and receiving HEERF grants at Loyola raises concerns about the cost of attending college, especially at private universities, Machl said.
“I think a lot of Loyola students received these grants as well as need-based assistance,” Machl said. “So I think both of those things show that a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet.”
Machl also said she is accountable for all of her own finances, as her family isn’t able to contribute towards her schooling or personal living costs.
“I think it has definitely been a huge help,” Machl said. “I was unemployed during the pandemic, so it really helped me stay afloat and keep my savings up.”
Machl said she has progressively received less funding each time she has applied for Loyola’s HEERF grants, receiving $1800 during the spring 2021 semester, $1300 during the fall 2021 semester, and then $1000 during the spring 2022 semester.
For the Spring 2022 semester, Campbell said Loyola had made around $5.9 million available to students by utilizing a portion of Loyola’s HEERF III Institutional Funds. According to Loyola’s webpage, the university allocated around $13.9 million in HEERF grants to students in the fall 2021 semester, which further explains why students received less than anticipated aid.
“The amount distributed to each student depends on the available funding and the number of students who applied for the grants,” Campbell said. “All with the focus on prioritizing those students with exceptional need.”
According to Campbell, out of the total $32.9 million HEERF grants that have been distributed to Loyola students since 2020, around two-thirds of this amount has been distributed to students with exceptional need.
Loyola bases the eligibility of financial need according primarily to a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This measuring tool of financial need is asked on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that students complete each year. Students who have not completed a FAFSA profile are still eligible to apply for HEERF funding.
Based upon the EFC information, Loyola’s faculty place students within one of three categories, labeled 1-3, with a marking of 1 meaning a student is in the highest level of financial need.
These students are the most likely to receive funds from Loyola’s HEERF III Share, but the amount given to each student can vary.
Mattix said they received a $2,500 HEERF Grant in the fall 2021 semester and used it to help pay for tuition costs.
“College tuition is just so remarkably high,” Mattix said. “I think HEERF funding is one of the only ways I would be able to continue on in my grad program.”
Once a student receives a given amount from the university, they have the option of either having some or all of the HEERF III Share Grant being applied to their outstanding student account balance, or it can be deposited to the student directly.
Mattix said the amount was more than they expected to receive and helped them focus on expenditures other than school.
“I work two jobs on campus, so it helped alleviate some of those other expenses,” Mattix, 26, said.
Mattix said they don’t anticipate using HEERF funding on tuition for the spring 2022 semester and instead intend to use the grant money for other costs.
“I didn’t need to go on a payment plan this semester, because I didn’t have student health insurance, so I would probably use it towards rent,” Mattix said.
Campbell said the information requested on Loyola’s HEERF student applications has changed over time since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. He said Loyola’s decisions to adapt the application questions have been consistent with the U.S. Department of Education’s guidelines.
In March 2021, the third installment of HEERF Grants were signed into law under the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The ARP recommends for universities to prioritize distributing the grants to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need.
The U.S. Department of Education has also advised universities to focus on domestic students, according to Loyola’s webpage. Domestic students is an overarching category that encompasses several groups, including: U.S. citizens, permanent residents, refugees, asylum seekers, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, other DREAMers and undocumented students.
Genevieve Dominick, a senior studying forensic science, said she has also applied for HEERF funding each semester it has been available.
Dominick said the amount of aid she received for the spring 2022 semester was a lot less than the amounts she received in previous semesters, which she said were relatively similar.
During the fall 2021 semester, Dominick said she used the HEERF funding to buy herself a new laptop, which she said she needed.
“This time all of it is going to tuition,” Dominick said.
Dominick said there has been a general consensus among her friends and those she has talked to that Spring 2022 HEERF funding amounts have decreased from previous semesters.
“I think a lot of people are using these opportunities from the HEERF Grant just to get by with tuition,” Dominick said. “It really breaks the bank.”