By Kevin Kruger, Amelia Parnell, and Alexis Wesaw (NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education)

There is no shortage of discussion on how college costs affect students’ persistence toward a degree. Ample research has shown that one barrier to timely degree completion is students’ ability to cover their necessary expenses. Although students and their families are expected to plan for the cost of tuition, fees, housing, and textbooks, for many students there remains a possibility that other unforeseen expenses—ones that students may not be prepared to address—may also arise. Such expenses, often connected to an emergency, can be so significant that they result in students deciding to take a break or fully withdraw from their institutions. College administrators are becoming increasingly aware of the likelihood that students may at some point experience an unexpected financial crisis and, in preparation for such untimely events, are operating emergency aid programs.

Prior research on emergency aid has focused on programs that were designed and funded by foundations and other organizations and were implemented by a small group of higher education institutions. For example, in 2008, MDRC examined the efficacy of two emergency aid programs funded by Lumina Foundation: the Angel Fund Emergency Financial Aid Program, which supported 26 tribal colleges, and the Dreamkeepers Emergency Financial Aid Program, which supported 10 community colleges (see Geckeler, Beach, Pih, & Yan, 2008). The Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation (2016) recently reported on the results of its emergency grant program at 16 colleges in the Wisconsin Technical College System. Although these studies certainly offered valuable insight into the influence of emergency aid on student success, a data gap still remained regarding programs that were started by an institution and supported primarily with institutional resources. The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), in partnership with the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU), examined the use of completion grants.1 However, specific areas in need of more exploration included the prevalence of additional types of emergency aid programs across varying sectors and sizes of colleges in the United States, the processes by which colleges typically administer the aid, the methods for informing students about the availability of aid, and the sources of funding to sustain the resources. To address these underexplored areas, NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education conducted a national landscape analysis of emergency aid programs.

The following report reflects the most comprehensive research of emergency aid programs known to date. The landscape analysis thoroughly addressed the current condition of emergency aid, including 10 components of robust programs; challenges and opportunities for increasing the number of students served; and considerations for colleges that intend to more closely examine the influence of emergency aid on students’ persistence toward a degree. Woven throughout the report are exhibits that describe the delivery of emergency aid among multiple sectors and sizes of institutions, and examples of effective campus practice. Three key findings shape the discussion: (Read More)

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