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The past several years have been challenging, and expensive, for higher education. According to a study by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), colleges spent 4% more from their endowments in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic than the year prior, in large part to handle the disruptions, emergencies, and basic needs insecurities caused by COVID-19. Of the 705 institutions surveyed, 70% increased spending during that same time, averaging $3.3 million more.
The continued need for telehealth and virtual care options
Now that the virus is proving to be significantly less fatal than it was in 2020, many colleges and universities have decreased their focus on controlling the viral spread and are transitioning to strategies for long-term management of the virus. In response to the pandemic, many schools transitioned to distance learning through online classes and embraced virtual student care services, including telehealth and other virtual care resources. A TimelyMD nationwide survey conducted July 25 through 27, 2022 found that 54% of students say they aren’t concerned about the pandemic, and 60% think their campuses’ COVID-19 precautions are appropriate. However, this shift doesn’t mean that the need for virtual care decreased.
The mental health concern among college students continues and is more acute than ever. In a nationwide survey of nearly 1,200 college students in July 2022 by TimelyMD, the overwhelming majority (86%) say their level of stress and anxiety is the same as or greater than this time last year. Simply put, the need for telehealth services—both for mental health and physical well-being—is not going away.
Identifying funds for virtual health care
With an impact that can be felt in both enrollment and retention, student health and well-being play a vital role in the success of higher education institutions. Virtual care programs and telehealth platforms help remove barriers to care, can offer 24/7 support, and scale a diverse provider network as an extension of existing on-campus healthcare services. As you review virtual care partnerships and programs for your campus, consider the different ways to manage the cost of virtual medical and mental health resource programs for students.
Here are a few sources of funding to think about for your virtual telemedicine program:
Emergency relief available through Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) is the latest example of a federal funding source that can be used to subsidize the cost of a virtual care program. To offset the impact of COVID-19, Congress passed a series of emergency aid packages, with a significant amount of funds allotted for higher education:
- HEERF I: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)
- HEERF II: Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA Act)
- HEERF III: American Rescue Plan (ARP)
The U.S. Department of Education states that institutions can also use their funds to help retain students by providing academic or mental health support systems. Virtual care programs, like those offered by TimelyMD, qualify as a service to support student mental health, as well as student retention and engagement support following the impact of COVID-19. These funds can be applied to the cost of TimelyMD’s TimelyCare platform and services for students. For reference, The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) created a chart detailing how these funds can be used and include deadlines for the use of funds.
Additionally, a list of funding opportunities for telehealth and broadband-related programs is maintained by the U.S. government for urban and rural communities.
To support students of all ages across all school districts throughout their educational experience, state leaders may explore how to effectively use financial resources to provide or enhance physical and mental health services for students. For states that prioritize the health and well-being of higher education students, funds may be available for programs that directly impact student health or can positively affect retention and engagement. Virtual care programs like TimelyMD meet the requirements for funds that state legislation allocates for such purposes. Additionally, federal funds for student support initiatives may be distributed through states.
Some institutions may have funds allocated for healthcare resources or funds that can be reallocated in the healthcare budget to support a virtual health and well-being program. Beyond these funds, college and university endowments or other institutional donations provide another potential source of funding for virtual care programs. While most new gifts to endowments at private and public schools are typically restricted for specific purposes, some gifts may be earmarked for student support services, healthcare, behavioral health, medical care, medical services, or mental health initiatives. Similarly, recent donations for emergency support may have restrictions to help fund support services for students as part of the recovery from COVID-19.
Endowed funds often support student financial aid and scholarships. But many students need more direct emergency assistance. Consider dedicating student emergency funds to help students who are struggling financially now. Then, the gifts made to these funds can be for current use, which means campus healthcare providers can use them immediately to help students.
Student health services fee
At many colleges and universities, it’s common for a student health services fee to be included, along with tuition and other fees such as room and board, dining services, lab, athletics, and more. This ensures that the institution can maintain valuable public health services for students. Creating, using, or making incremental adjustments to a health services fee can easily help subsidize the cost of a virtual care program.
Some federal agencies, private foundations, corporations, and associations in the U.S. want to support instructional projects, research, technology, and innovation. As you search funding sources for programs that provide student support services to improve college completion and academic success, consider keywords such as “strengthening institutional programs,” “institutional management,” “institutional improvement,” “student support services,” “institutional stability,” and “innovations to improve education outcomes.”
The Rural Health Information Hub is a trusted resource for researching telemedicine grants. You can filter options by topic, state, and active/inactive funding. An exhaustive list of grants, including opportunities from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) can also be found at grants.gov.
Hundreds of private foundations, corporations, and associations provide grant funding for student support services, and could support a comprehensive institutional grant program. Once you have an idea for a grant proposal to fund your program, match your objectives to those of a funding organization. Understanding the goals and requirements of the funding source will help you not only plan the proposal but ensure that it includes all of the information needed for review and serious consideration.
Funding virtual health care on your campus
The impact of investing in virtual care resources
As budgets get tighter, higher education decision-makers and campus health professionals are looking at how to best allocate resources. Virtual health care equips campuses with efficient, cost-effective access to care that complements existing campus health resources, and provides care for students when and where they need it.
As inflation, regulatory changes, and evolving technology create new challenges and opportunities for college and university health departments, virtual health care is a means to improve mental health support on your campus, while also reducing costs. A study of telehealth patients confirms telehealth can expand care while reducing costs. The study is only the latest in a growing body of evidence that shows one of the value propositions of telehealth for student experience is a cost reduction in conjunction with simultaneous growth in patient access to needed care and support systems.
Coupled with the virtual health care funding options above, your campus health care program can make an impact on:
- Student health through greater access to additional care.
- Engagement – healthier students are more engaged on campus and in the classroom.
- Retention by keeping students healthy and in school.
The result is a happier, healthier campus. Contact TimelyMD to explore identifying funding for a virtual well-being program.