Infusion of Stimulus Funds Making a Difference for Students Of Color At The SDCCD

Financing May 2021 PREMIUM
Written by San Diego Community College District


That’s how Dr. Susan Topham, the San Diego Community College District’s (SDCCD) Vice Chancellor for Educational Services, describes the infusion of federal and state aid being directed to students still staggering from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This level of assistance benefitting our students, their families, and our community has never been done before,” said Topham. “It is imperative we do everything we can because our future depends on it.”

Nearly 20,000 students received CARES Act-funded grants totaling nearly $7.2 million during the initial disbursement in April of 2020 and more than 2,200 additional students have received emergency grants from CARES Act I so far this spring. The SDCCD’s Board of Trustees on April 22 accepted an additional $97 million of federal stimulus money to support students through the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). A minimum of $38 million will be provided in direct aid payments to help students financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the remaining funds will support instructional and operational costs to help the SDCCD cover added expenses due to the crisis.

At least half of the cash grants are being provided to help cover the cost of food, housing, childcare, health care, or student fees to allow them to continue with their education during the economic and health crisis. The SDCCD and San Diego City, Mesa, and Miramar colleges, and the San Diego College of Continuing Education will use the remaining funds for additional expenses incurred during the pandemic, including the costs associated with transitioning to online instruction, purchasing laptops for students, additional student support services, and impact of lost revenue. City College is using some of its funds to support its Dreamer Center, mental health counseling – with a focus on students in the Umoja and Puente Project communities – and to translate the City College website into multiple languages such as Spanish since it is one of the primary languages spoken by City students.

Emergency assistance going directly to students will not affect their ability to receive financial aid such as scholarships or grants.

The SDCCD is among the largest of California’s 73 community college districts, is the largest provider of higher education and workforce training in the region, and generates $4.1 billion in economic activity. Approximately 40% of the nearly 100,000 students at San Diego City, San Diego Mesa, and San Diego Miramar colleges and the San Diego College of Continuing Education are Latino and more than 70% come from communities of color.

“The SDCCD is grateful for the additional infusion of federal funding,” said SDCCD Chancellor Constance M. Carroll. “These funds are needed to help students continue their studies and stay enrolled while supporting them in navigating the economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. They will also help the district cope with the myriad costs associated with the massive conversion to online instruction and remote operations.”

Federal funding is being distributed through multiple acts with two of the most recent being $35 million received through HEERF II, which was authorized by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act signed into law on December 27, 2020. The remaining $62 million is  a result of HEERF III and was authorized by the American Rescue Plan of 2021.

The federal government has specific requirements as to when funds must be fully used, for what purposes, and requires quarterly status reports as the funds are expended. Grants provided through the most recent infusion of HEERF funding will be available into 2023.

SDCCD distributions are also coming through designations as Minority Serving Institutions and Hispanic Serving Institutions.

“The Latino community knows the meaning of hard work, they know the importance of a good education,” said Marciano Perez, Dean of Student Affairs at San Diego City College. “They are determined, and we have to help them.”

“Our students are in such need right now that any amount of dollars is vital,” Perez continued. “People are having their internet service shut down, we have hunger action days that are drawing large crowds. I got a note from a student yesterday saying that she couldn’t pay a bill on her cell phone, which she uses to access her classes. This pandemic has really thrown students for a loop. Our Black and Brown communities have been tremendously impacted by the pandemic, and 52% of our students at City are Latino. They’re already coming to school with a disadvantage, they’re starting from behind even before they get here.”

In fact, nearly 60% of students at Mesa College, 54% of Miramar College students, and 48% of City College students who were surveyed last year said they were suffering through a loss of income because of the pandemic.

Students are receiving emails inviting them to complete an SDCCD Student Relief Form Application for HEERF dollars. Students must be enrolled this spring and priority will be given to those with exceptional financial need, such as those who receive federal Pell grants.

“We make it as easy as possible for students to receive the help they need,” said Topham. “For a lot of our students, it’s about putting food on the table, paying their bills, affording basic needs. It can literally mean the difference between having a place to stay or living on the street.”

Money from three rounds of stimulus funds isn’t the only assistance students have been receiving; the SDCCD will distribute grants from its San Diego Promise Foundation before the end of the spring semester to students in need who are part of the tuition-free San Diego Promise, Topham said.

San Diego City College, for example, secured a $1.8 million, College Homeless and Housing Insecure Pilot Program grant from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office to help homeless and housing-insecure students find a place to live. Mesa College has instituted a Drive-thru Mobile Market and Drive-Thru Farmers Market to ensure students in need are not going hungry and are receiving fresh produce in a safe, expedient manner. Mesa also offers free hot lunches prepared by its Culinary Art Program to students in need. Miramar College has partnered with Feeding San Diego’s Retail Rescue program to collect fresh, high-quality produce that is bagged and distributed to food-insecure students during weekly campus drive-throughs. It also distributed more than 200 food cards totaling $30,000 to food-insecure students through a partnership with the Miramar College Foundation while also establishing a new partnership with Hugs and Bags that distributed hot meals on a weekly basis during the height of the pandemic last summer. And the San Diego College of Continuing Education is partnering with the San Diego Food Bank and San Diego Rescue Mission to provide additional meals and groceries for its successful SDCEats! Marketplace and Mini-Marts and is partnering with the Food Bank to coordinate CalFresh sign-up days and a monthly Farm to Family Fair free farmers market and health and resource fair.

“These resources have made such a difference in the lives of our students. It has impacted them in ways we may never know,” Topham said.

Added Perez: “I’m impressed by the resiliency our students are showing. They are determined to get through this, and we’re here to help them.” 

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