Advancing the Movement on Emergency Aid—Reflections from NASPA’s National Convening on Emergency Aid

Advancing the Movement on Emergency Aid—Reflections from NASPA’s National Convening on Emergency Aid

Omari Burnside, NASPA / NASPA / January 25, 2019

The New Year presents the perfect time for many of us to reflect on our accomplishments from the previous year and to identify ways to make the most out of the year to come. We set goals, create plans, and some of us even make public declarations to formalize our commitment and to share with others about the new and potential things to come.

At NASPA we also like to do our own thoughtful reflection and planning for the future. To do this, we often ask ourselves:

“Are there new opportunities we should be exploring?”

“Are we providing the latest insights on the top issues affecting our members and the higher education community?”

“How else can we add value to the field?”

Earlier this year we were able to spend some time reflecting and thinking about an issue that is of particular importance to NASPA and many of our members – emergency aid. Since 2016, NASPA has been a part of an ever evolving ecosystem of practitioners, researchers, and advocates who work to identify, promote, and implement practices to help institutions in their efforts to support students facing a financial crisis.  On January 9th and 10th, NASPA convened members from this ecosystem to have cross-sector discussions on how to strengthen and scale emergency aid efforts to-date, both nationally and at institutions.

Advancing the Movement: A National Convening on Emergency Aid brought together approximately 100 leaders from institutions, research organizations, associations, foundations, and nonprofits who are committed to providing effective resources to help alleviate some of the financial strain that may result in a student stopping or dropping out of college. This diverse group of meeting participants allowed for rich and robust discussions on the current state of emergency aid, barriers and risks to administering aid, and potential solutions to address the most prevalent challenges. Participants spent the two-day meeting:

The packed two-day agenda made for a fun and engaging convening where I left totally impressed by the dedication and passion shown by the presenters, facilitators, and attendees.

Below are just a few takeaways I have from the convening:

Work is happening! Institutions and other organizations have remained committed to helping more students receive the resources they need. From institutions establishing food pantries to organizations conducting new research to better understand the impact emergency aid has on student success; it is easy to see that there is high energy around this work and many stakeholders are actively finding new ways to accelerate the movement.

Partnerships are critical. Throughout the meeting there were multiple discussions about the need to identify and cultivate mutually beneficial relationships with partners from both inside and outside the campus. Institutionally, attendees stressed the importance of ensuring that emergency aid is a cross-campus effort. Offices such as financial aid, student affairs, institutional research, development, and academic affairs (including faculty), should have clear roles and responsibilities and actively collaborate to carry out the work. Externally, attendees mentioned the need to partner with state and local governments and organizations with missions aligned with the goals and type of aid offered at an institution. Through these partnerships, schools will be better positioned to scale and sustain emergency aid offerings.

Communication is always key. This may be obvious, but communication continues to be both a barrier and solution for this work. Institutions have done significant work in this area to help students, families, campuses, and other stakeholders better understand the basics of emergency aid, the value of the program can bring, and relevant institutional policies on how to administer and/or receive aid. However, the impact of emergency aid programs could be better communicated to funders, alumni, and other potential partners. Additionally, more communication channels can be developed to better inform students of available resources, as well as, hear from them about their experience with the program.

A community is needed. The biggest reflection I had from the meeting is that there are many people and organizations doing innovative things in this area and people want and need a way to share their stories and stay abreast on the latest insights. This reinforced the importance of for me. Student ARC is designed to be an online resource for those interested in learning more about emergency aid. NASPA is committed to continuing to populate the site with articles, videos, case studies, and other tools and resources to support practitioners and leaders. The Student ARC platform can be leveraged as a community of practice where anyone can contribute and help to make the site content rich and a true asset to the field.

Emergency aid will remain a topic that NASPA will continue to advocate institution and others in the space to use to support student success. Stay tune and keep checking Student ARC on the latest developments!

Advancing the Movement: A National Convening on Emergency was made possible through the generous support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.