Collaboration, communication key to disbursing CARES student aid quickly

Austin Community College (ACC) has distributed more than half of the $6.9 million in federal aid it received specifically for student emergency support from the Department of Education as part of the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

Every student who applied and was eligible to receive ACC CARES Act Student Aid funds during the spring and summer semester application periods received financial support. In spring, ACC awarded $3.4 million in CARES funds to 3,189 students. As of July 15, ACC awarded $714,850 to 696 students for the summer.

"It was about moving swiftly and making sure that students who had a need, who had a hardship related to the disruption of their education related to this particular virus, weren't waiting forever to receive these funds," says Dr. Shasta Buchanan, Student Affairs vice president. "The government gave us these funds, we created a plan and a process to be able to support them, and we moved quickly to get them there."

Communication evolution
To make students aware of the aid, ACC used various modes of communication including emails and newsletters, online chat, social media, and call-a-thons.

Having the right people at the table from the start
The ACC CARES committee was made up of a collaborative cross-section of the college, from accounting to student and veterans. The college received the first portion of CARES funds on April 20, and within one week the committee had a process and was able to start delivering federal aid dollars directly to students.

Ease of having one application
A single application was developed to simplify the process for students requesting emergency aid. Applications went to ACC's Financial Aid Office to ensure eligibility first. If a student was eligible, their application was sent to ACC's Business Office which created a process that allowed for daily disbursements directly to students.

Federal guidelines for CARES aid require students to be eligible to receive federal financial aid, be in good academic standing, and be actively enrolled in an ACC course.

The majority of students who received CARES aid were female (67 percent) and in the 18- to 25-year-old age range (53 percent).

Eligible expenses include:

  • Food, hygiene, and household items
  • Child care
  • Rent, mortgage, and temporary housing
  • Utilities
  • Automobile, transportation costs
  • Legal support
  • Medical emergency or illness
  • Healthcare or health insurance
  • Technology for ACC classes and course materials
  • Continued resources, flexible student emergency funds

Thirty-five percent of students who applied were not eligible for CARES funds. Those students were sent to the Support Center or Foundation Office for other sources of aid, including the ACC Student Emergency Fund.

The college has about $3 million in CARES student aid funds left to distribute in future semesters.


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