How microgrants help retain students

'A small amount of money dramatically helps a student'

Colleges and universities are increasingly offering microgrants to students in need of emergency financial aid.

Both community colleges and four-year institutions are using data analytics to show this type of financial aid saves schools money and improves student retention rates.

A microgrant program helped Georgia State University (GSU) survive the Great Recession, says Provost Tim Renick. The school seeks students who are on-track to graduate but owe a small amount of money. Eligible students may receive up to $2,000 through the program.

Learn more: How GSU created a culture where numbers matter

"We were holding on to more students who weren't dropping out but instead were paying bills and providing tuition and fees that helped our university get through a tough financial time," Renick says.

GSU officials estimate they earn a 200% return on their Panther Retention Grant program. Renick estimates that the microgrant program helped 400 students graduate who would otherwise have dropped out. Students in the program have an 88% retention rate, he tells the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A joint report by the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (CUSU) and Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) provides a "How to" guide for schools looking to create their own microgrant programs.

GSU's system is among 10 programs featured in the report, as is Virginia Commonwealth University's (VCU) Graduation Funds program. To be eligible for that program, students must have 103 or more credits, have not yet registered for their final semester, have a less than $5,000 outstanding balance with the school, and have a GPA of no higher than 3.0. Students with higher grades can usually manage to find merit aid, according to the report.

Institution staff members look at financial aid and student history to find potential candidates, offer them up to 50% of the money they owe, and direct them toward solutions—such as a loan—for the other half.

"A small amount of money dramatically helps a student," says Lauren Walizer, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

The support for microgrants marks a shift in how people are looking at financial aid, says Shari Garmise, VP for CUSI and APLU's joint Office of Urban Initiatives. Instead of just viewing it as a tool to get students into college, now it's being used to help them graduate, too.

Meanwhile, NASPA is studying uses for emergency grants as well (Fain, Inside Higher Ed, 2/22; Hoover, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/22).

One missed financial aid form can derail a student's academic career

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