Building on President Biden's Unity Agenda, Education Department Urges Colleges to Use American Rescue Plan Funds to Provide Mental Health Supports to Students

Building on President Biden's Unity Agenda, Education Department Urges Colleges to Use American Rescue Plan Funds to Provide Mental Health Supports to Students

May 19, 2022

Today, the U.S. Department of Education published new guidance to assist institutions in providing mental health supports for students, faculty, and staff. The guidance will help colleges support students as they navigate mental health challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. It also includes specific examples of how colleges can use Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) to invest in evidence-based mental health supports for students and connect the campus community to providers and care. The guidance highlights leading colleges already using HEERF funds for these efforts. The Department's efforts build on President Biden's Unity Agenda goal of transforming how Americans understand, access, and treat mental health and is being released during Mental Health Awareness Month.

"If there is one thing I've heard while speaking with college students throughout the nation, it's been the need for greater mental health supports on campus," said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. "We must make sure our colleges and universities have the tools and resources to help students, faculty, and staff heal from the grief, trauma, and anxiety they endured amid the pandemic. Today's guidance will equip higher education leaders with promising strategies for how they can use American Rescue Plan dollars to connect students to the services they need and to better support mental health and wellness throughout their campus communities."

Later today, Secretary Cardona will highlight the guidance and discuss how federal funds, including support from the American Rescue Plan, can play a critical role in addressing mental health during a virtual roundtable with students at the University of California, Riverside. The university used federal pandemic relief funds to provide immediate crisis support and teletherapy to students and expanded wellness resources for staff.

College students, faculty, and staff have been particularly impacted as losses from COVID-19 and disruptions in the learning environment have led to increased anxiety and depression. According to a Fall 2021 survey of college presidents conducted by the American Council on Education, nearly 75 percent rated student mental health as a pressing issue. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that 63 percent of 18-24-year-olds have reported anxiety or depression due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while 25 percent have had suicidal thoughts.

The American Rescue Plan provided nearly $40 billion for colleges and universities through HEERF, in addition to $36 billion provided under previous relief packages. This funding has helped colleges – particularly community colleges and institutions enrolling students from underserved groups – meet urgent public health needs related to the pandemic.

Examples of how colleges can use HEERF to offer mental health supports include:

  • Strengthening mental health resources:
    • Telehealth: Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College in Wisconsin – a tribal college – partners with a mental health platform to allow all students and faculty on-demand, 24/7 access to counselors.
    • In-person professionals: Sinclair Community College in Ohio hired a social worker to provide case management to students. 
  • Connecting students to care:
    • Gatekeeper training/suicide prevention training: Davidson-Davie Community College in North Carolina provided gatekeeper trainings and materials to over 30 faculty and staff.
    • Call/Text hotline: State University of New York at Albany runs a student peer phone hotline to allow students to call with mental health concerns or to talk.
  • Creating long-lasting support:
    • Suicide Prevention Coordinating Committee: North Carolina Central University – a historically black university – created a suicide prevention coordinating committee to develop on-campus resources and a suicide response plan.

Today's guidance provides examples of how institutions can continue offering mental health supports to students, faculty, and staff through existing HEERF funds. Initial investments in high-impact mental health projects can be made now, with ongoing support of successful programs from philanthropic efforts, local partnerships, or other funding sources.

The Biden-Harris Administration remains committed to ensuring recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Today's announcement reflects the Administration's pledge to provide resources and support to institutions and their communities. Last October, the Department also released Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral and Mental Health, a resource for schools, colleges and communities to promote mental health and the social and emotional well-being of children and students. Additionally, in January the Department announced $198 million in American Rescue Plan funds to support students' basic needs and provided guidance on how colleges could use federal funds to bolster mental health counseling programs.

A copy of today's published mental health guidance can be found here.

For more information on HEERF under the American Rescue Plan, please visit https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/arp.html.

The institutions identified are provided as examples and for information purposes only. The inclusion of these entities should not be construed as an endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education, or the federal government, of any product, service, or venture of the institution.