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Raising Emergency Funds for the Most Vulnerable Students

Student Success Student Affairs Fundraising and Communications
April 9, 2020 Glenn Gittings Sophie W. Penney Barbara B. Rose

Hello during an unprecedented time in our higher education history, and great job on each of you adapting to new methods to help serve our students in need while also juggling your own personal and professional roles that have been totally altered.

This “new normal” has come at us with hourly, daily, and weekly changes that oftentimes requires a complete reset and re-tooling, but as with much of our higher education history we will continue to be resilient and persevere through this crisis. Our campuses have adapted, altered, and lived through the American Revolution, Civil War, World Wars, and other pandemics. As always, it is the collective nature of the staff, faculty, students, alumni, and community that rallies together to weather each storm and create a path forward to healing.

Many of us are searching for new techniques, strategies, and service ideas on how to assist college students in these unprecedented times. The most vulnerable populations on our campuses are getting hit especially hard from the shift to all online courses, residence halls closing, dining options being reduced dramatically, student employment being drastically reduced or even eliminated, and food insecurity rising at its highest levels.

For vulnerable student populations, times like these can be the point of no return for college completion. Food insecurity, which was already a significant reality across U.S. higher education, becomes even more critical when stores are running out of food and the money to buy those supplies is tight for college students. Many students who are working part-time in restaurants/retail and those working on campus (both federal work-study positions and non-federal work-study positions) are very vulnerable due to reduced or eliminated hours coming from the need, as a society, to shelter in place and create social distancing to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Students who were either already homeless or on the brink of homelessness are critically vulnerable in this new reality to find shelter and food each night. International student populations, which are isolated here away from their family and with limited options off campus, are especially anxious trying to navigate this new reality while also watching international news to keep up with family and loved ones in their home countries.

This is where we as student affairs professionals have and can continue to rise up to help all our students. It has been heartwarming to see a multitude of higher education Facebook groups, webinars, listservs, and many other platforms spring up to share ideas and best practices with practical tools and ideas to better serve students’ needs inside and outside of the classroom. At this critical juncture, student affairs is essential to helping college students not only survive, but persevere through this global pandemic and its impact on their daily lives. Whether that is the counseling center, career center, student involvement, disability resource center, LGBTQ+ center, housing & residence life, cultural center, TRIO, intramural sports, tutoring services, or others, we have a key role in connecting to our students during this “new normal” and helping them through.

At this period in our current and most likely future realm of higher education, the acquisition of resources to support students’ needs outside the classroom is essential. This is where the important role of student affairs fundraising becomes a key tool to allow students to have a lifeline and avenue to support in their times of need. Therefore, we wanted to share a few examples of what student affairs fundraising could look like on your campus to create an immediate and valuable resource for students.

The University of Louisville, just like many other colleges and universities across the nation, turned to student affairs to assist. One of the key ways was to launch a collaborative fundraising initiative between student affairs and university advancement that requested support from alumni and the community for emergency student grant funds for those students in the highest need, as well as request monetary and food staple donations to the campus food pantry. These emergency funds are essentially micro-grants to students in the highest need categories and work to replace lost wages, increased burdens for rent and basic supplies, and unexpected catastrophic losses. These micro-grants can range in increments of $150, $300, $500, $750, and even $1,000. Often these do not fulfill the entire need of the student, but they can be very critical in preventing a student from dropping out while serving as a lifeline of hope in very tough times.

On top of emergency student grants, campus food pantries are essential during this crisis. Student affairs is traditionally the home for many food pantries that exist in student unions and other common student gathering spaces. Fundraising to support food pantries can come in a variety of forms, including but not limited to: cash gifts from individuals or businesses to purchase needed food items; gifts of food from individuals or businesses to support the pantry; and even gifts from direct food suppliers and/or grocery stores of food items to support the pantry. The food pantry can also be a tandem resource to emergency student grants or serve as a standalone critical need in helping students stay one step away from stopping out and not returning.

We hope this blog post has provided ideas for you and your colleagues in student affairs. Additional fundraising strategies and resources can be found in the NASPA publication Student Affairs Fundraising: Raising Funds to Raise the Bar.

We are all in this together, and as higher education history has shown, colleges and universities will persevere. Stay strong, take care of yourselves, and be well.