As mentioned in a previous blog, many colleges are offering an emergency aid program to keep students enrolled when facing financial emergencies. As noted in the Landscape Analysis of Emergency Aid Programs, 74% of institutions across sectors offer one or more types of emergency aid assistance. While programs may have been in existence for some time, the report also notes the struggles colleges face with administering the program such as where to house the program, how to determine appropriate documentation, and how to administer aid so that students do not continue to submit requests for one-time assistance.
The Student ARC website and Emergency Aid Rubric can provide some guidance on how to best manage your program by learning about other programs as well as understanding the critical components for a successful emergency aid program. Considering the complexities of managing an emergency aid program, highlighted below is an example from Seminole State College of Florida and three things we do to manage our program called Destination Graduation in partnership with Heart of Florida United Way (HFUW).
First, set goals and define what “emergency” means
In 2015, Heart of Florida United Way received a grant from Lumina Foundation to examine non-academic barriers to graduation by developing an emergency aid program with Seminole State College of Florida. Senior leadership did not set a vision for the program but key staff were pulled together who developed the vision and goals for the program along with HFUW. This included setting and adjusting monthly financial goals based on the funds available for emergency aid and identifying the target population to be served. Student information collected through an intake form that students complete provides information on Pell status, marital status, enrollment status, work status, and other information such as gender and dependents which helps define the demographics of students utilizing the program. Another important aspect of this was having a clear definition of what “emergency” meant for the college. This will vary from institution to institution depending on the purpose and goals of your respective program. For Destination Graduation, an emergency is defined an “unforeseen or unanticipated event which causes a sudden loss of income.” As staff meet with students, they use this definition to qualify whether students are eligible for funding.
Second, identify a person or office responsible for administering the program
An important aspect for managing your emergency aid program is determining the best office and contact person for the program. Initially, you will want to determine what, if any, paperwork you may want to collect to determine students’ emergency needs. You will also want to think about the best physical location for the office. Seminole State College put the program strategically inside the Advising & Counseling office because this is where students usually go when they are not doing well in class or considering withdrawing from one. Many times, those situations are related to unexpected emergencies. Another option is the financial aid office as many times, the emergency need may impact the cost of attendance and students’ financial aid packages. A staff person in this office would have a better understanding of the aid the student is receiving.
Unlike some examples from the Landscape Analysis report, where predominantly Student Affairs and Financial Aid departments oversee the emergency aid program, Destination Graduation is managed by staff from Heart of Florida United Way who have office space in the Advising & Counseling office on campus. A liaison within Student Affairs manages the partnership and serves as the budget manager for the funds. Students are referred to Destination Graduation where they meet with an HFUW 2-1-1 specialist to identify the emergency and connect students with over 2,000 community resources in their respective database. If a student has an identified emergency, they are referred to an HFUW case manager who also works on campus to collect documentation, discuss and assist the student with the emergency, and submit requests to the liaison for emergency funding that is paid directly to the vendor.
Third, don’t work alone
Once a decision is made regarding what department and who will oversee the program, they need to partner with other departments across campus to make it successful. For example, financial aid plays a key role in these types of programs so if they do not oversee the program, they need to be involved to ensure colleges are meeting federal requirements regarding financial aid packaging and cost of attendance. As housing is included in cost of attendance, payments made to apartments or others will need to be reported to financial aid. Many times, since it’s due to an unexpected emergency, students can submit a ‘professional judgement’ form to increase their cost of attendance. If this is confusing, that’s why you need to involve your financial aid office.
Another example is collaborating with your foundation office. To offer emergency aid, you need to identify revenue sources. Many times, your foundation office can fundraise on behalf of this initiative so funds are available to assist students.
Consider the aspects of your emergency aid program and reach out to colleagues who work in departments that will support your program.