Helping Your Own: Emergency Aid Programs

Jan Lloyd, Associate Vice President for Student Development, Seminole State College of Florida

March 4, 2019

As college administrators focus on the retention and completion rates of college students, students’ non-academic needs are being recognized and addressed to help them stay in college. Many times this is due to unexpected financial emergencies such as lack of hours at work, natural disasters, and illness of self or partner/spouse/family member as a few examples. It is also connected to students’ food and housing insecurities. A report by Goldrick-Rab, Richardson, Schneider, Hernandez, and Cady (2018) showed that 36% of the university students who responded were food insecure within 30 days of taking the survey and 42% of community colleges faced the same challenge. Community college students also faced greater housing insecurities (46%) compared to university students (36%).

In 2016, NASPA published an article on Trends in Campus Emergency Aid Programs by conducting a landscape analysis that demonstrated the various types of emergency aid programs that colleges were offering to their students which included campus food or book vouchers, completion grants, emergency loans, food pantries, and restricted and unrestricted small grants. At that time, of the 523 colleges who responded to the survey, 82% had offered a program for three or more years.  A recent College and University Food Bank Alliance report (2018) showed that 83% of the colleges who responded had a food pantry on campus.

As colleges look to coordinate civic engagement activities to improve their local community, many times they need to address the issues on campus. Seminole State College of Florida implemented their emergency aid program in 2015 in partnership with Heart of Florida United Way with support from the Lumina Foundation to determine if emergency aid programs were effective in helping students stay in college.

Our Destination Graduation program assists students with non-academic needs due to unexpected financial emergencies. The program will pay for rent, utilities, and car repair as some examples. Heart of Florida United Way staff also oversee and manage the on-campus food pantry to address food insecurities. Unlike other emergency aid programs across the nation, Seminole State houses two Heart of Florida United Way staff on campus in the Advising & Counseling office. A full-time 2-1-1 navigator meets with students expressing needs and connects them to over 2,000 community resources through their 2-1-1 database.  Many times, the connection to community resources alleviates the students’ issue. If students demonstrate academic and financial sustainability and need emergency funding, they will meet with a part-time case manager who will discuss with them the emergency, provide budget planning recommendations, and work with Seminole State staff to process a check that is made to the third-party vendor to cover those needed expenses. Heart of Florida United Way pays for the staff and Seminole State College provides the emergency funding.

Since 2015, Destination Graduation has assisted over 1,000 students with 284 receiving financial assistance with an average cost of $800 per student. Of the students who received funding, 76% of them either re-enrolled or graduated the next semester compared to only 57% of students in crisis who did not receive services. In addition, students who received funding showed a 7% higher re-enrollment or graduation rate compared to all low-income students at Seminole State College of Florida.

Heart of Florida United Way has developed a toolkit, sponsored by The SunTrust Foundation to help other communities replicate this program and its benefits. The toolkit discuss all steps from how to form a planning group to program implementation and sustainability. To learn more and apply for full-access to the toolkit, please visit

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