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The TREAT of Supporting Students Facing the TRICK of an Unexpected Financial Crisis

Financial Wellness
October 31, 2017 Amy Geist NASPA

As student affairs professionals, we often find ourselves in the role of confidante or become more aware of the signs students show when facing a crisis. Many of us may even be generous with our personal resources to assist students by providing food when meeting with them one-on-one. Maybe we do this because we understand more students are becoming food insecure or because we know that many students have to choose between priorities that can cause a financial strain and we look for ways to help.

On a larger scale, though certainly not a complete one, institutions are opting to deliver emergency aid resources as an effective practice to support low-income students who face a small, unforeseen financial crisis. Research shows that providing financially distressed students with a small amount of aid, usually less than $1,500, can help students remain enrolled and progressing toward graduation. Organizations regularly share valuable information about distributing emergency aid and opportunities exist to learn from grant funded programs and their application at institutions around the country.

Understanding this as an evolving need, NASPA continues to provide support to institutions and professionals who are engaged in this work, or who desire to be. The newest phase of support is the launch of Student ARC: Advancing Retention in College. Student ARC will serve as a robust online source of information about emergency aid, including how programs are created, managed and sustained and how this work can support ongoing student success efforts. Student ARC will become a social platform for the higher education community to build consensus around emergency aid fundamentals and to share timely and relevant resources.

NASPA’s early steps in this venture came via the release of a landscape analysis of emergency aid programs. The landscape analysis gathered information about the varied practices and impressions around emergency aid programs and what comprises a robust program. The landscape analysis also uncovered needs that should be addressed in order for institutions to strengthen and sustain these efforts, such as utilizing a common language, creating policy guidance, improving data use, establishing guiding procedures, and using automated processing.

That report shows that over 70% of institutions have access to a (limited) resource pool for those students who request support for a small crisis (e.g., unexpected car repair, medical bill, loss of income); yet the relative anonymity of these resources means that students who do not self-identify, or who do not know a program exists, may drop out of college due to a small, solvable resource need. The opportunity exists to assist institutions in developing a formal program, defining a program or practice and marketing available resources to students, faculty or staff.

In the time since the report was released, NASPA has continued to learn from a variety of institutional emergency aid efforts and gathered resources to share through the Student ARC site. NASPA also developed a rubric to assess institutional readiness, which will help institutional leaders further understand and improve upon the overall management and effectiveness of their emergency aid work. 

Student ARC will facilitate a national imperative around the use of emergency aid as a critical strategy for increasing degree completion for low-income students. Discussions through the Student ARC website will involve key higher education stakeholders that include administrators, funders, researchers, and policymakers. Student ARC will be an online hub for the dissemination of information regarding the efficacy of emergency aid programs, including examples of strong programs and strategies for building, sustaining and expanding such efforts.

As Student ARC grows to be a place for insights from professionals and organizations across the United States, the invitation will remain open for you to share your resources and contribute to the conversation about emergency aid. 

Student ARC will launch in November 2017.