Education secretary salutes GRCC for outreach, student support during pandemic

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona spotlighted Grand Rapids Community College for its outreach and support for students facing challenges during the pandemic.

The salute came during a call Cardona had with national media to discuss $36 billion in emergency grants provided by the Education Department under the American Rescue Plan Act for post-secondary education. GRCC President and Lakeshore Advantage board member Bill Pink was asked to participate in the call to discuss the federal assistance. 

GRCC is one of about 60 Michigan colleges and universities expected to receive grants. GRCC is in line to receive about $25 million to help students overcome obstacles created by COVID-19 and to launch programs to help the region recover. Funding also can be used to offset costs related to the pandemic and prepare the campus for additional students.

Impressed by use of previous funds

Cardona says he invited Pink to participate because he is impressed by how GRCC used previous federal support efforts to help students.

“They’re actually an exemplar in how they reach out into the community and get those students who were hit the hardest — including students from rural communities, which were impacted greatly by the pandemic,” Cardona says during the call.

GRCC transitioned largely to remote classes after the pandemic struck. Many students struggled financially when their work hours were reduced or their jobs eliminated. The transition to online learning also revealed that many students did not have access to computers, strong internet service, or other equipment needed to participate in classes.

“This pandemic has been hard on our state, and this institution has been focused on how we can support our students, no matter where they come to us from,” Pink tells Cardona and the media on the call.

Providing resources

GRCC distributed about $3.4 million in federal CARES Act funding directly to students to help them with food, health care, child care, and technology and is in the process of distributing additional resources made available through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

GRCC provided more than 630 loaner laptops, about 400 internet Wi-Fi hotspots, and other equipment. Kent District Library partnered with the college to provide Wi-Fi in 20 branches around the county, including in parking lots, so students could connect and complete assignments after hours.

The college also worked with community partners to replenish its food pantry for more than a year, providing thousands of packages to students facing food insecurity — work that continues today.

“This American Rescue Plan funding will give us the opportunity to continue this work and relieve some of the barriers we know our students are experiencing,” Pink says during the call.

“These funds will help us, and it will help these students,” he says. “We know many students told us this school year, ‘We’re sitting it out. We’re not even going to college.’ Now that we’re able to get these types of funds in place, it will help us in helping those students re-engage because now, these funds can take some other barriers off the table.”

Grants for 5,000 institutions

The American Rescue Plan grants will help more than 5,000 institutions of higher education nationwide — including historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and Hispanic-serving institutions — provide emergency financial aid to millions of students and ensure learning continues during the COVID-19 national emergency.

"These funds are critical to ensuring that all of our nation’s students — particularly those disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — have the opportunity to enroll, continue their education, graduate, and pursue their careers,” Cardona explains to the media. “With this action, thousands of institutions will be able to provide direct relief to students who need it most, so we can make sure that we not only recover from the pandemic but also build back even stronger than before.”

Pink recently joined the board of Lakeshore Advantage to work with the economic development organization, which is prioritizing access and affordability of higher education as a growth strategy for the regional economy in the coming years.

GRCC eyes fall opening for Lakeshore campus


Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.

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