NASPA’s efforts and attention toward student success, persistence, and completion are not new; they are constantly evolving to reflect demographic changes in the college student population. As we have seen over time, today’s college students may have a completely different set of complex needs than ever before; institutions must be prepared and continually examine the ways in which they address the variety of students’ experiences and challenges.
As the national conversation continues about the cost of college, the reality is clear – unexpected expenses, and other financial barriers or challenges, may be significant enough to result in students taking a temporary or permanent break from college. The concept that life gets in the way has never been truer. Even a small bill, unexpected repair, personal or family emergency, or other unplanned expense can feel devastating and insurmountable to a college student.
Enter Emergency Aid. Institutions are providing emergency aid to help students address a variety of critical and time-sensitive needs. The working definition NASPA has been using to describe emergency aid includes grants, loans, and completion scholarships, with disbursements usually less than $1,500, which are provided to students facing unexpected financial crises. Emergency aid can also come in the form of food pantries, housing assistance, and transportation assistance. Institutions have at their disposal a wide variety of resources they can distribute to students who need them, at a time when they need them most.
Following the 2016 release of the Landscape Analysis of Emergency Aid Programs, NASPA has continued a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with the intention to facilitate institutional development of timely, direct assistance to students facing an unexpected financial crisis. Though not typically widely advertised, emergency aid in a variety of forms is being implemented more and more each year at all sectors and sizes of institutions.
NASPA has brought this issue to the forefront within the field through presentations and discussions at conferences hosted by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), the National Association for College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), and NASPA. These conferences have provided the opportunity to have fruitful conversations with colleagues who are addressing some of students’ financial challenges. In each session, the content included contributions from senior leaders such as John Laws from Ivy Tech in highlighting a first-hand overview of resources at institutions. Additionally, these conference discussions have featured lessons learned from the landscape analysis as well as a look ahead to what’s on the horizon, as we seek to support this growing area of focus.
NASPA is continuing this work by facilitating the development of a community of practice among those working to serve students in unexpected financial crisis. A significant component of this effort will be a website with contributions from a variety of institutions, associations, and others who are connected with this work. The website will provide a place to share promising practices, seek resources, ask questions, connect with others doing similar work, and learn more about the landscape of emergency aid at postsecondary institutions in the United States.
Today’s college students may bring a different set of needs than some institutions of higher education are currently prepared for, but examining how things are done and looking for new ways to administer financial resources can result in positive outcomes for students in every institution. NASPA is eager to assist institutions anywhere along the continuum, whether they are just beginning to develop an emergency aid approach or are ready to enhance and expand what they currently offer.
What is your institution doing to assist students facing an unexpected financial crisis? What does your institution need in order to get started? We look forward to having you join the community of practice.