Three things you can do to further emergency aid efforts at your institution

At the 2018 NASPA Annual Conference, many conversations centered on what we at institutions can do to help students stay on track to graduation in the face of challenging financial emergencies. More and more, college administrators face the reality of students arriving with complex needs; sometimes those students will unexpectedly experience situations requiring an urgent response to address some of the most basic human needs. Let’s presume for a moment you are aware of students at your institution who face food or housing insecurity, have had an unexpected emergency, or contemplated dropping out or leaving mid-semester due to some financial burden they hadn’t anticipated.

Considering that reality, what are three things you can do, no matter your role at an institution, to assist students in these types of situations?

First, seek to understand the national landscape of student need.

Student hunger, homelessness, financial insecurity, and unexpected crises are more prevalent than you might think. Read the Wisconsin Hope Lab report Hungry and Homeless in College, released earlier this year, which focused on basic student needs data from community colleges, or their more recent release Still Hungry and Homeless, which included data on students at 4-year institutions and 2-year institutions. Both of those reports illuminate the harsh and concerning reality of food and housing insecurity at many of our institutions. These dire and concerning situations are likely to be the reality for many students at your institution, too. You may have seen the Landscape Analysis of Emergency Aid Programs, released by NASPA in 2016, which looked at the prevalence of emergency resources being offered at institutions across the United States. Analysis of the survey revealed 82% of the 523 responding institutions have operated some kind of emergency aid for three or more years, reflecting the existence of an emergency aid program at more than 70% of institutions in most sectors. 

Once you understand the likelihood these kinds of situations exist within your own student population, what do you do next?

Second, connect with others at your institution who are aware, concerned, or already engaged in providing support and resources to students who need it.

Seek to connect with and develop relationships with others know students in these trying times and provide support. When Lumina Foundation provided a grant to the Heart of Florida United Way (HFUW) in Central Florida to help students with non-academic issues, HFUW reached out to Seminole State College of Florida to partner on a new emergency aid program. Working as a team, their first step was to assess what was currently happening at the College related to assistance and resources for students in need. The second step was to identify offices where students in need would go to discuss their concerns. The third step was to pull together those departments and staff to discuss current initiatives and how they could be improved.

Several key offices were included such as Financial Aid, Student Services, Advising and Counseling, Veterans Office, and the Foundation fundraising office. Since Financial Aid packages, awards, and monitors students’ federal, state, and institutional funds, they can identify students with financial insecurity or those who do not meet standards of academic progress due to unexpected crises. Student Services, which serves as the one-stop-shop for all student admission and enrollment processes, and the Veterans Office work closely with students in need who may withdraw from classes due to various “life got in the way” issues. The Advising and Counseling office is where students go to talk to someone about academic and personal issues. Academic advisors and counselors are key staff who have the best understanding of the issues students face each day. When faced with these crises, the College departments routinely reached out to the Foundation office to try and identify funding to assist students. Based on your respective institution, there may be other departments you can include in the initial conversations or on the team as you approach development of services and aid.

Once you have made connections with those at your own institution, turn to other sources for additional perspective and support. 

Third, make connections with administrators involved in providing these types of resources at other institutions.

Recently launched, StudentARC.org is a website to foster a community of practice and provide support for institutional and administrative efforts of emergency resources. Visit Student ARC (Advancing Retention in College) to find others engaged in the emergency aid conversation and to learn from their experiences. Student ARC provides a framework of six critical components to shape the development of emergency aid resources and programs. The website serves as a living library of resources and stories, such as interviews and blogs by those working in direct service to students. In an upcoming blog, you can learn more about how Seminole State College of Florida developed their Destination Graduation program and housed Heart of Florida United Way staff on campus to provide connections to over 2,000 community partners and case manage their emergency aid program. Student ARC also features reports like Foiling the Drop-Out Trap, released by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Coalition for Metropolitan Serving Universities, which provides practices for institutions to consider regarding retention and degree completion grant programs. On Student ARC, you can also find the Emergency Aid Rubric to help facilitate your institution’s discussions and assess areas of focus in establishing, enhancing, or expanding types of aid you may make available to your students. News, blogs, interviews, reports and more will be added as the conversation continues throughout the country.

A variety of approaches, methods, and types of aid will be highlighted on StudentARC.org; the invitation is open to anyone in the field to share their successes and challenges in addressing the needs of their students. 

It’s clear based on the landscape of students in need that higher education institutions should be doing something to help students stay enrolled and complete their degree. 

What conversations are you having at your institution about emergency aid? What questions do you have about how to administer emergency financial support? What roadblocks or challenges have you faced or are you facing? 

Join the conversation at Student ARC to shed light on this topic and learn from your colleagues.