Eureka and Lincoln are among nine colleges and universities to receive grants from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund to help students with technology and other needs. The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) awarded $375,948 to Lincoln College and $165,424 to Eureka College from the fund.
The funding initially came from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Ginger Ostro, IBHE executive director, said, “Each of the institutions is demonstrating evidence-based efforts to recruit and retain first-generation, low-income, underrepresented and rural students. The bottom line is that we want these students to stay the course.”
Among areas in which the money will be used is closing digital gaps including equipment checkout efforts, providing social and emotional support through efforts such as peer mentoring, enhancing financial and career literacy and increasing campus food pantry supplies.
EC President Jamel Wright indicated the grant will be helpful in narrowing the “digital divide,” which “has become more pronounced with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Although EC has been providing face-to-face instruction, some students are learning remotely because of pre-existing conditions or because they are quarantined or in isolation because of contracting or being a close contact of someone with COVID-19.
LC also has been providing face-to-face and hybrid instruction.
In addition, students at both colleges will not be returning to campus after Thanksgiving break and final exams will be done online.
The limited number of computers EC had for lending was used to equip rooms for students in isolation or quarantine who could not use the campus computer labs.
“A lot of our students come from rural areas where broadband is not reliable,” said Wright.
She added students might also have a smart phone but no laptop or be in a household where multiple people are sharing one laptop.
In addition, by providing laptops and WIFI hotspots to those who need them through this grant “they can focus on successfully finishing their semester strong.”
According to Michelle Baldwin, interim vice president for academic affairs at LC, “We want to make sure everyone who needs a laptop has one to take home.”
When students were surveyed this past spring, 23 percent answered they did not have access to a laptop at home and 17 percent indicated they did not have Internet service.
LC also hopes by providing more laptops, fewer students will need to use the computer labs, thereby reducing potential for spreading the coronavirus.
According to Baldwin, the grant money also will be used to expand tech support, hire more students to staff the computer labs so the hours can be expanded and to upgrade the college’s information technology resources.
EC also intends to use its grant money to support its peer mentoring program for first-generation students, to bring in an expert to design an online financial literacy course and to bolster its food pantry.
According to Wright, 45 percent of EC students are the first in their families to go to college and 48 percent are eligible for federal Pell grants and the state Monetary Award Program, which are both based on financial need.
According to Baldwin, 42 of LC’s students are first generation students and about 60 percent have demonstrated financial need.
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