70% of HEERF funds remain unspent. Here’s why


70% of HEERF funds remain unspent. Here’s why.


The various government relief funds and philanthropic donations that institutions have received in the last 18 months have been emphatic in their purpose: to support successful student outcomes through the pandemic and beyond. As a post-vaccine world emerges, a growing number of execs are looking to build hybrid student experiences—and wondering how to leverage this influx of student-centric funding to build a campus fit to support the students of today, with an eye on the students of tomorrow.

Yet despite the clear alignment between new funding and the higher education mission—and robust guidance on the requirements for spending the funds on technology—many institutions have yet to allocate their funding. As of May 31, many states were reporting that roughly 30% of HEERF awards had been distributed or spent

Higher education emergency relief funds spent

  • 0%
  • 0%
  • 0%
  • 0%

To make the most of remaining funds campus executives should be preparing to take swift, decisive action on digital investments that align both with the funding’s stipulations for serving the students of today—while preparing campus operations for the students of tomorrow. But with a tight timeline for action, the worst characteristics of higher ed’s often slow and poorly prioritized approach to digital investments are rearing their ugly heads.

If your campus is struggling to allocate funds but has outstanding digital student experience projects on the back-burner, consider whether these two barriers to progress are stalling your efforts at innovation, and take the appropriate steps to remediate them:

1. Technology is disconnected from strategy

While there’s growing appetite for digital workflows and solutions to support student-centric innovation, few campus strategic plans and vision statements explicitly call out technology as an important part of enabling the institution’s strategy. Therefore, when technology considerations surface as a component of wide-ranging campus projects, it’s often difficult to make the case for investment.

In our recent polls, it has become clear that even where holistic, campus-level strategies may exist, they are not effectively communicated. Only 1 in 10 executives surveyed believe their institution has a holistic technology strategy, while two thirds reported that their institution doesn’t have one—and a further 25% did not know either way.

Only 0 in 10

executives surveyed believe their institution has a holistic technology strategy

To get ahead of confusion and skepticism on your campus—and build alignment around tech-enabled projects—executives should step up as digital leaders and articulate a broader digital strategy that integrates institutional priorities with the key technology capabilities that will support them. Often, the CIO can play a key role in helping to map and communicate projects and support unified messaging around the value of technology. Until tech investments are viewed as a priority, uncertainty among staff will continue and could derail efforts to invest.

Beyond executive leadership, more widespread education on the importance of digital competencies for institutional strategy can help prepare staff for change. At Anglia Ruskin University in the UK, for example, the technology department created a digital literacy framework and designed a curriculum to help staff level-up their digital skills in order to implement the tech strategies that supported the campus plan.

2. Student impact isn’t clearly defined

If groups at your institution have identified tech initiatives to improve student outcomes and you’re still struggling to get them funded, it’s possible that the project champions are not clearly articulating the connection to key student outcomes: retention, experience, and attainment. For some tech, the connection is clear. For example, the business case for an advising solution neatly aligns with student outcomes. With EAB’s Navigate, one institution saw a $2M revenue boost, while another saw a 20-percentage-point increase in graduation rate. But for more nebulous or administrative technologies, return on investment—and direct student impact—is harder to articulate.

Enterprise-level solutions that provide critical infrastructure updates like Education Data Platforms can have a profound impact on an institution’s ability to address difficulties students face on their academic journey. But making the case should always start with a deep understanding of unmet student needs. Map process journeys, interview students, and identify the key friction points that you want to address. Then, your quest for new tools can prioritize outlining early projects and implementation goals that mitigate existing challenges and deliver outcomes that map directly to your student support strategy.

Investing for a sustainable future

The waves of federal funding and philanthropic support directed toward higher education in the last 18 months provide a unique opportunity for leaders to reimagine and rebuild their campuses with tomorrow’s students in mind. Rather than spend once to remediate the troubles of today, the right collaboration, focus, and alignment will enable today’s leaders to invest in technologies that set their institutions on course for a better, more sustainable future—one that more neatly aligns campus services to the needs of students, faculty, staff, and the communities they serve.

Ready to learn more?

Speak with an EAB expert about your technology investment strategy.

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