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Emergency Grants are Key to Helping Students Stay in College

Joan Cronson By Joan Cronson

Scholarship America sees a big jump in crucial interventions during pandemic

An occasional financial emergency can hit anyone, but it can be especially devastating for college students who may already be struggling during the pandemic. Scholarship America, the nation’s largest provider of private scholarships, is seeing an increased need from students, as well as additional support from organizations interested in funding emergency grant programs.

“The financial status for many students is precarious, and COVID-19 has only worsened that uncertainty,” said Robert C. Ballard, president and CEO, Scholarship America. “Just one unexpected expense can disrupt even the most careful financial planning. This can force students to drop out of school—a temporary solution that too often becomes permanent. When we can intervene at those critical times, a modest investment can show huge benefits for student outcomes.”

Scholarship America distributed $3.1 million in emergency grants last year to more than 4,000 students. The average student grant was just $741. Yet these emergency grant recipients were three times more likely to stay in school, with 95% completing the term they were enrolled in and 88% enrolling the next term.

This year, Scholarship America is seeing a dramatic increase from major funders interested in providing emergency aid to students due to COVID-19. Organizations recognize how cost effective it can be to help students at critical times when they might otherwise suspend their dreams.

When colleges closed their doors in March, the crisis decimated many students’ financial well-being. Many students living on campus were forced to relocate on short notice, while others moved closer to home to help support family. Programs such as Dell Scholars deployed emergency funds to cover non-qualified educational expenses resulting from the pandemic. The program provided Dell student scholars access to travel and storage discounts, free or low-cost Internet access and mental health support.

“I dropped one of my courses last semester and took on three jobs to not only pay for school expenses, but for my unexpected health expenses, as I don’t have insurance,” said Maya Ruiz, Dell Scholars emergency grant recipient. “Due to COVID, I ended up losing two of my jobs and now barely have enough money to live, let alone go to school. I’m embarrassed that I even have to ask for help, but I want to finish my degree and I’m so close to achieving that.

Because of my job losses, the money that I do get from my only job goes directly to living expenses (water, lights, food, etc.). I have been working ‘odd’ jobs like house-cleaning, lawn maintenance, and the money I get from that, I set aside for my tuition and college expenses. However, I am still short and this money would allow me to pay the rest of my tuition.”

In addition to Dell Scholars, organizations that are meeting students’ emergency needs in a variety of ways include:

Achieve Atlanta Emergency Grants, which helps students cover unexpected financial emergencies that potentially impact a student’s ability to stay enrolled in school or emergency expenses incurred due to COVID-19 response and loss of employment. Unplanned or unanticipated events including but not limited to job loss, a reduction in work hours, loss of housing, or a health issue that prevents a student from working. Learn more at achieveatlanta.org/emergency-grants.

“When we decided to pilot an emergency grant program in partnership with Scholarship America earlier this year, we could have never known how critical and impactful this program would be in this moment,” said Tina Fernandez, executive director, Achieve Atlanta. “Emergency grant requests went from 24 before COVID-19 to 437 applicants, and total amount rewarded went from nearly $10,500 to more than $181,700. One of our scholars who received an emergency grant commented, ‘The funds were extremely helpful, and I thank you for your contribution. I can now focus on my education through these troubling times.’ The COVID-19 pandemic has pulled back the curtain on a sobering reality: many college students struggle to make it through every week and are just one unexpected event – minor or major – away from not being able to complete college.”

Travelers, which made special provisions to its existing fund that provides emergency aid to participants of the Travelers EDGE® program. The program, which focuses on increasing access to higher education and preparing students for careers in insurance and financial services, now offers additional scholarships to students who are experiencing financial difficulties due to COVID-19.

The Leonetti O’Connell Family Foundation, which has established the LOCaid Emergency Grant Program to assist undergraduate students at the University of Southern California (USC) who are experiencing unexpected financial difficulties, which may impact their enrollment. Students can receive funds to help them alleviate a variety of financial emergencies, such as medical bills, car repairs, childcare, and groceries. Grant recipients’ feedback includes:

“By awarding me a LOCaid Emergency Grant, you have lightened my financial burden which allows me to focus on my education,” said student C. Chen. “Your generosity has helped my family in many ways and we are truly grateful. I hope to be able to one day help students the same way your grant program has helped me.”

“COVID has made it challenging taking classes from home and adapting to the new school, work, and home environment,” said student S. Navarro. “This grant will definitely help me stay on track with my studies and my graduation date. I am grateful for the support.”

Scholarship America encourages both students seeking aid and funders interested in assisting students to contact them to apply for an emergency grant or start an emergency grant program.

About Scholarship America Scholarship America is a non-profit organization that helps students fulfill their college dreams. Since 1958, Scholarship America has distributed $4.3 billion to more than 2.6 million students. The organization works with partners to lower barriers to a college education and give students the support needed to succeed. Learn more at scholarshipamerica.org