CVTC using pandemic relief funding to expand free textbook program

Feb. 18—EAU CLAIRE — Area colleges are continuing to allocate millions they've received in federal COVID-19 relief funding.

Chippewa Valley Technical College officials say it's using some relief funding to respond to pandemic issues — buying equipment and technology for online classes and remote work, and offering mental health services for students — but also to expand a free and low-cost textbook program.

CVTC has received roughly $12.8 million in federal COVID relief funding through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, or HEERF, since March 2020, said CVTC director of college effectiveness Shana Schmidt. That funding is aimed at helping the college "defray institutional costs associated with the pandemic," Schmidt said in an emailed statement.

The college is using about $125,000 of its relief funding to draft a new, free nursing textbook.

CVTC has operated an open education resource, or OER, program that has created five free nursing textbooks so far, said Kim Ernstmeyer, the college's open RN project director in a news release.

The OER program is aimed at giving students "equitable and consistent" access to textbooks, lectures, syllabi, lesson plans and other resources, said Vince Mussehl, CVTC director of Library Services.

Students took a financial hit during the pandemic, and developing more free textbooks means fewer financial barriers for them, Mussehl said in an email.

The new free nursing textbook is expected to save Wisconsin students $650,000 each year, Ernstmeyer said.

Schmidt said CVTC plans to spend the rest of the $12.8 million in institutional funding on responding to pandemic issues. It will spend the money on COVID mitigation strategies in classrooms and labs; equipment and tech for online classes and remote work; tech and software for clinical programs and virtual labs; at-home lab kits for students; mental health services; and on employees to "support and retain students impacted by the pandemic."

The college also got an additional $8.6 million in student aid, which is required to be given directly to students; that money will be fully spent this spring, Schmidt said.

Other area universities also received eight-figure COVID relief funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, which was passed by Congress in March 2021. UW-Eau Claire received $20.1 million from ARPA, and UW-Stout received $14.2 million.