John Laws, Ph.D., vice chancellor for Student Affairs at Ivy Tech Community College discusses his institution’s work with emergency aid, including monitoring and measuring success and promoting the work on campus.
What is the emergency loan fund at Ivy Tech Community College and how has it evolved?
The emergency loan fund has been around for quite a while, and the key to this fund is that the donor stipulated the funds to be used for whatever it takes to help the student be successful. There are very few restrictions, except for it to be used for direct educational expenses, not to pay rent, utilities, and things like that.
It's been very beneficial to students. We've served quite a few people with this, and some very unique needs, such as amplified stethoscopes for students in the medical field who were hearing impaired and were truly having difficulty hearing pulses. Those are pieces of personal equipment that the students would not be eligible to get in other regards, so we've done that. That first wave of the loan was not a loan, it was a gift from the donor, through us.
Ivy Tech, in January, made the decision to put that money in an emergency aid fund, and it is not a loan. It is a fund for truly emergency aid, it's a gift, and we've worked out the criteria, that it can be used for whatever purpose is necessary to help the students be successful. There are a few caveats to it, but generally, it's very unrestricted. We also have an opportunity through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to gain funds from sales of Ivy Tech license plates and every campus of the Ivy Tech system is now receiving that money, as apportioned by the people purchasing license plates within their area. It could be a college employee that has the college license plate, our alum, or anybody, and when they renew their plates, we get that money to help the students.
What is the period of time for the loan payback, or the scope of that responsibility for the student?
It can be very ambiguous, based on need and situation. Generally speaking, the loan is initially shared with the student as a 30 day loan, so that it bridges the gap until financial aid is released, or a paycheck is coming in from their employer. But we certainly work with the student to extend that, even for a semester as necessary, so that we're truly helping them, and not just extending the pinch point for them.
How do you measure student success within the aid programs at Ivy Tech?
Unfortunately, we have not tracked it well. We have a log to document that we gave the loan, and the loans are put on the student account, so there's a record of it, and it is treated as a business transaction they are responsible for. We do not send them to collections if they don't pay, but we do tell them that they need to pay it back before they continue in school. As is college policy if they owe a balance at the end of the semester, we do not allow them to continue until they pay off the balance owed to the college; this loan would be part of that commitment they must pay off. Now, we make exceptions to that based on circumstances. We don't want it to be a total barrier, but we do want them to assume responsibility, financially.
We have started tracking more systematically, the data for success, but it's so preliminary. We started doing this last January, so I don't have much data to say that it's making a difference in a statistical way. Quite frankly, every once in awhile the student takes the money, uses it, stops going to school, and doesn't pay it back, and the donor has been very understanding about that. He's been very generous to the college.
Are you working in partnership with the financial aid departments on campus?
Yes. In the case of gifts, we do share it with them, so that financial aid is aware, and for probably about half the students, it does impact their awards, so we need to make adjustments occasionally. Most of our students are in great enough need that the small amount is not impacting overall.
We do share information with the financial aid office and our finance office that has the student accounts, but we also keep it fairly private, so that it's not known around campus that somebody got a loan. That's certainly not the intent at all.
How do you promote and advertise the resources at Ivy Tech on campus? How do students find out about the services you’re offering?
It used to be a well-protected secret that activated if students came in and talked with a faculty or staff member who knew about the opportunity, or the faculty or staff member knew to send them to financial aid, to see what could be done.
Now, we've really opened it up.We send emails to faculty and staff periodically. to keep it in the forefront of their awareness. At a faculty all-hands meeting, at the beginning of each semester, we have a blurb about how we can all serve students, and be resources to them, whether it's our behavior intervention team saying something, or recognizing a student struggling in whatever way, and then we specifically do mention that we have funds available, and some are more restrictive than others, but when in doubt, refer people to us.
The student services folks are the frontline of our express enrollment center. It’s a one stop operation, they're all very well-versed, and they will make the referral. Currently, they do not all have the ability to just write a check or authorize that, but they certainly know to make the referral, and help make sure the student gets connected to these resources. We have not generally advertised it to the student body, yet. That's something I think we're going to work into our processes, but we've yet to do that.