In June of 2021, WGU received $39M from the third wave of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF III) to support financially constrained students. This aid, which was part of the $1.9T American Rescue Plan, was meant to help students persist and complete their degrees through the immediate and ongoing economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research teams at WGU Labs and WGU Advanced Analytics examined academic outcomes for students who received aid through the various distribution models. We found:

  • Emergency aid reached students with significant financial constraints. Across all HEERF III recipients, 30% reported a household income of less than $35,000 — the poverty line for a family of five. More than 40% were first-generation college students. Nearly half of aid recipients responding to a follow up survey reported difficulty covering basic needs including food costs, utilities, and housing.
  • For the institution-wide distribution model — the model that offers the strongest analytic properties — we found an 11.2 percent increase in graduation beginning 12 months after students received funding. We did not find effects on competency units earned or loan amounts borrowed.
  • Neither accompanying the aid with information on academic support uses for the funding nor providing aid in installment payments affected student outcomes.
  • We estimate that these gains in graduation cost about $4,745 per additional graduate.

"We are practitioners, not researchers. We know how emergency aid affects students, but we don't have data, research and time to validate our anecdotal evidence. By partnering with Labs we saw a huge opportunity to track the impact of unencumbered aid." - Patti Kohler

Download the full report below, and access our HEERF II analysis here.