ECU bolsters access, affordability, clears student debt

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GREENVILLE, N.C. — The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III (HEERF III), part of the American Rescue Plan signed into law on March 11, provides $39.6 billion to institutions of higher education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

East Carolina University leaders have outlined a plan to use the university’s share of the funding to bolster access, affordability, and campus safety in support of its mission of student success, public service, and regional transformation.

The university will also use a portion of the funds to clear approximately $960,000 in outstanding student balances from summer and fall 2020. Stephanie Coleman, interim vice chancellor for administration and finance, said the debt forgiveness is intended to provide relief for students facing hardships due to the pandemic and will affect about 625 students.

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ECU’s expected $53.1 million in HEERF III funding includes $27.3 million for student aid and $25.8 million in institutional aid. Areas of focus for UNC System institutions include public health, affordability, access, student success, and IT security.

“ECU is fortunate to receive these one-time federal funds to support our students and university as we come through this pandemic,” said Chancellor Philip Rogers. “We will invest these dollars in meaningful ways to support the university community and to ensure our institution is prepared to serve our students and our region not only now, but 10 years from now.”

In addition to continued COVID-19 mitigation including saliva, PCR, and wastewater testing, ECU will invest in additional counseling resources in anticipation of an increased need for services. Dr. Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs, said teletherapy options and opportunities would be increased.

“We already had a large demand for counseling services prior to the pandemic, and we anticipate that same demand or even higher,” Hardy said. “We want to be sure we’re ready to help our students and employees acclimate to being back on campus and address the traumas of the past year.”

Some of the funds will be used to offset lost revenues in areas such as housing and dining.

Access and student success initiatives include employing additional tutors and academic coaches, providing many large, high-demand classes with learning assistants, and providing summer tuition grants. ECU will also expand summer course offerings to help students catch up on or accelerate their progress toward degree completion.

ECU will expand and enhance its use of artificial intelligence/automation technologies across campus to better serve students. A virtual course design project will cultivate excellence and assist faculty in enhancing pedagogy in online instruction for strategically targeted courses by providing instructional designers, cutting-edge technology, and faculty grants for professional development.

Additionally, IT security and capacity will be bolstered to accommodate the increased adoption of remote and virtual teaching methods.

“We are being proactive in working to meet the needs of our students, our campus family and our community both now and in the future,” said Interim Provost Grant Hayes. “In addition to providing financial support to our students, this funding will also be used to greatly enhance structures and systems to ensure student success. Student success is at the core of ECU’s mission and we know that students succeed when we devote our energies to continuously improving their experiences in and out of the classroom.”

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