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Miami University received $76 million in COVID-19 funding: Here’s where it went

In March 2020, Miami University sent thousands of students home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and refunded “tens of millions of dollars” for tuition, housing and dining expenses and general fees.

In the months that followed, Miami continued to incur costs due to a smaller first-year class, the inability to house international students and the delayed on-campus start for the following fall semester.

To help mitigate the financial losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Miami more than $76 million through the Education Stabilization Fund (ESF). 

According to the Department of Education, the ESF invested over $263 billion to educational institutions “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus impacts on education for our nation’s students.”

The ESF award to Miami came from two of the four primary relief funds: the Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF)

Miami received just less than $69 million from HEERF – the tenth highest award in Ohio. The award was divided into two grants: $31 million supporting student financial aid and $38 million supporting institutional aid.

David Creamer, vice president for finance and business at Miami, said the amount was determined by a formula created by the federal government.

“[The government] calculated it based upon data that universities submit,” Creamer said. “That [data] was used to derive an amount per student, and then that determined how much the university was awarded.”

There were two main factors of the formula: the first factor allocated funds to undergraduate Pell Grant recipients, and the second allocated funds based on undergraduate and graduate enrollment. 

Pell Grants are given to students who demonstrate financial need.

Miami is the fifth largest university in Ohio by enrollment, but out of the public four-year universities, it has the lowest percentage of Pell Grant recipients.

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The grant was passed in three acts by Congress. The first act, passed in March 2020, was the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, also known as HEERF I. Under HEERF I, Miami received nearly $6.5 million in institutional aid, allocated to revenue replacement.

David Ellis, associate vice president of budgeting and analysis at Miami, said revenue replacements were refunds to students for housing, dining and general fees.

The second act, passed in December 2020, was the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), also known as HEERF II.

Under CRRSAA, Miami received more than $13 million in institutional aid. About 0.5% was allocated to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, 3.3% supported distanced learning and 0.14% funded other sanitation services, with the remaining funds going toward revenue replacement.

Creamer said the university was limited in deciding where the money went.

“The Department of Education came out and said, ‘Here’s how you may use these funds,' and then we complied with those rules,” Creamer said. “When we report it back to the U.S. Department of Education, we show them exactly how we used the money.”

The final act, passed in March 2021, was the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, also known as HEERF III. Under the ARP Act, Miami received more than $18 million total, with more than $11 million allocated to revenue replacement.

In addition to institutional aid, Miami received funds for student financial aid under each of the three acts.

Under HEERF I, Miami received almost $6.5 million in student financial aid awarded to fewer than 4,000 students. Similarly, in HEERF II, Miami received the same amount of money, but it was awarded to more than 5,800 students. Under the last act, HEERF III, Miami received nearly $18.5 million which helped more than 4,000 students.

Under each act, the number of students eligible for aid was significantly higher than those who actually received money, but Beth Johnson, director of student financial assistance, said the university was limited to who it could give aid to.

“Per the federal guidelines, we prioritize the grants to students with exceptional financial need, so that would include students eligible for the federal Pell Grant, high-needs students and sometimes moderate-needs students," Johnson said. "In addition, there is also an emergency funding request form on the Dean of Students site, so any student can go there regardless of need and fill out that form.”

According to the Department of Education, Miami prioritized students on the Oxford campus and students living on-campus. Miami also took into consideration the FAFSA’s Estimated Family Contribution. However, not every eligible student received the same amount of money.

“There’s not enough funding to give every single eligible student, so we prioritized students that the Department of Education asked us to,” Johnson said.

The last amount of funding was distributed to students on April 6.

Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund

Under the GEER Fund, Miami received more than $6 million.

According to the Department of Education, Miami obtained the second-highest amount in GEER Funds, following Ohio State University.

The amount awarded, also determined by a formula, came from the state rather than the federal government.

The award was divided into two grants: more than $380,000 to support Miami’s Student Counseling Services and $6 million to the Ohio School Wellness Initiative.

The Ohio School Wellness Initiative, led by Cricket Meehan, director of Miami’s Center for School-Based Mental Health Programs (CSBMHP), supports mental health aid and substance use support for K-12 students and staff in Ohio schools. The initiative began in 80 schools but now serves approximately 68 schools.

Meehan said she was approached by the Department of Education to spearhead this initiative after previously working on two five-year federal grants surrounding mental health.

“October 2020, my phone pinged with a text from one of our Ohio Department of Education connections, and she basically said, ‘The governor has this emergency funding. We recognize there’s a school mental health crisis … We would really love your team to be the group that leads this initiative,’" Meehan said.

After being approached, Meehan said her team drafted a non-competitive proposal of what the work would look like, and they received the funding.

Meehan said they've spent most of the grant money, but they still have some left to use before their grant expires on Sept. 30.

“We have spent a significant amount of the funding on identifying content experts and bringing contracted outside content experts in to help us,” Meehan said. “The Ohio Mental Health Network for School Success is receiving a significant portion to help us be present in those local settings … and then we have our internal team here, and I think there’s still room in our budget to figure out what are the last things we need at the end of the project”

Each of the initial 80 schools also received funds for staff wellness initiatives.

Even though the grant expires at the end of September, Meehan said their work won’t stop there.

“The Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services are the two co-directing agencies that are a part of this … they’re both in their separate departments trying to identify how this can be sustained and move forward long-term,” Meehan said.

Unlike the Ohio School Wellness Initiative, Miami’s Student Counseling Services spent the entirety of its grant. The funding was used to launch telehealth services and other support for remote students. 

“The shift from face-to-face work to telehealth work is something that few clinicians nationwide had any sort of background in, so we wanted to make sure that we got all of our clinicians trained and up to speed in terms of the differences between providing face-to-face services as opposed to virtual services … The other piece was the technological infrastructure of how to do that,” John Ward, director of the Student Counseling Service, said.

While Ward said the service helped many students during quarantine in their homes, he has noticed that most students prefer face-to-face services. Since June 2021, just less than a quarter of the center’s 9,200 counseling appointments have been virtual.

What’s left to distribute?

Miami has more than $7 million remaining from the ARP Act, but Ellis said he isn’t quite sure what it will go toward. 

“​​We have not identified how we're going to use the remaining bit of HEERF III that we have available to us,” Ellis said. “We've continued to incur costs this fiscal year, and we have additional revenue loss that we've not recovered, so we're working through how to do that.”

Miami has until June 2023 to spend the remaining funds.