What Technologies Can Colleges Spend Their CARES Act Funds On?


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The fall term is quickly approaching. While most universities and colleges need new technologies to retool classrooms for social distancing and hybrid learning, some may not realize the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act can cover a broad range of technology spending.

“Institutions may use the funds … to purchase equipment or software, pay for online licensing fees, or pay for internet service to enable students to transition to distance learning,” the U.S. Department of Education states.

Brian Retzlaff, a solutions engineer at Legrand, has this advice for instructors who still need money to cover distance learning technologies in the fall: “A lot of times, it’s just a matter of knowing who to ask at their institution,” he said in a July webinar on audiovisual technology. “Say, ‘Hey, I’d like my fair share of that money.’”

Tech Covered by the CARES Act

Let’s take a look at what the Department of Education says this funding covers — and what it does not.

  • Reimbursement for One-to-One Programs: Did your higher education institution purchase technologies such as computers and hotspots to donate (or loan) to students on or after March 13, 2020? If so, your school can receive reimbursement for this equipment.
  • Emergency Financial Aid for Students: At least 50 percent of the funds each institution receives must go toward emergency student financial aid for expenses related to COVID-19 disruptions. Eligible expenses include technology.
  • Distance Learning Tech: This includes not only computers, devices and AV equipment but also online licensing fees, software, internet and IT equipment.
  • Online Program Management (OPM): Although the CARES Act does not cover contractors, many colleges and universities use an OPM provider for their distance learning platforms and learning management systems. They also use OPMs for student recruitment. In these cases, funds can cover a per-student fee to an OPM vendor. It cannot, however, pay for recruitment activities by OPM providers or any other contractor.
  • Security: This can potentially include technology purchased to address gaps in remote learning security.

Keep in mind that the CARES Act does not cover endowments, payments to contractors who handle “pre-enrollment recruitment activities” or spending on athletics and religious facilities. Only expenses that incurred after March 13, 2020, are eligible.

Andrii Atanov/ iStock / Getty Images Plus


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