I write to you from a place of sorrow and anger over the festering racial inequities that have brought us to this moment as a nation, as well as determination to continue and accelerate our efforts to address them when it comes to higher education.
For many of you and the students you serve and support, an “anything but normal” academic year has drawn to a close. And a big question looms: “What now?”
For many of today’s students and their families – especially low-income and first-generation students and students of color – this is an urgent question. Not a question about summer jobs or gap years, but a question about basic needs and whether their educational dreams are in jeopardy.
Let’s be clear. These questions existed before COVID-19 and disparities in basic needs and support for students of color and low-income students were present well before the protests happening now. As the Hope Center has documented over the past five years, at least a third of students reported some form of food or housing insecurity, and at least one in ten reported homelessness. Without action, the pandemic and its economic effects will only make these problems worse, pushing millions of today’s students to the ragged margins of educational opportunity.
That is why one of the four pillars of our COVID-19 response is holistic student support. Broadly, this is the intentional integration of academic and personal support systems that address the whole student. One of the most urgent elements of this is emergency aid for unplanned expenses that can derail a student’s journey. Experience in the field offers insight on how to design and deploy emergency aid programs, including streamlining application processes, delivery to students, and setting clear and equitable decision criteria. Keep reading for more information about our unfolding work in this area.
Preserving and expanding educational opportunity will take more than emergency aid and short-term measures; we understand that. In the coming weeks, I will be sharing more about our COVID-19 response, which is designed to address both the immediate and longer term change we need – and our students deserve. We are committed to swift and evidence-backed action, working with and listening to partners and those on the front lines of serving today’s students.
Scaling and Evaluating Emergency Aid for Students
In recent years, a growing number of colleges and universities have implemented emergency aid and retention grant programs to provide short-term support to students facing unplanned expenses that can cause them to stop or drop out of their educational programs. Evidence has shown that these grants – even just a few hundred dollars – can make a significant difference in retention and completion for at-risk students.
COVID-19 has brought new urgency to these efforts, as students and their families face deep and immediate financial challenges. Government and philanthropic resources are moving to colleges and universities to provide financial support to their students. But many institutions don’t have the structures and guidance they need to allocate that support efficiently and effectively.
We, along with other funders, are taking a multi-faceted approach to tackling this issue:
Edquity, a leading provider of tools for colleges and universities administering emergency aid programs, will expand access to its platform to up to 100 additional institutions over the next 18 months and provide technical assistance for customizing and using its tools.
The Hope Center, which has led the way in documenting basic student needs, will conduct much-needed research to build knowledge about how institutions are deploying their emergency aid programs – and the results they are getting for students.
National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), the leading organization for student aid professionals, will expand its professional development offerings, particularly on guidance related to distribution of federal CARES Act funds for students.
NASPA, the national organization representing student affairs professionals at colleges and universities, will provide training and technical assistance to its members to ensure efficient and equitable distribution of emergency aid funds, including the use of platforms such as Edquity.
How does a community college with more than 10,000 students work in real time to support those students amid a rapid shift to online learning? Higher education author Jeff Selingo recently caught up with members of the leadership team at Lorain County Community College in Ohio, and they shared actions they took to gather data about student needs and equip faculty to address academic needs and concerns.