Catalytic Giving

SUNY Student Emergency Fund

The financial aid system often falls short when it comes to supporting students who are at risk of dropping out of school because of financial crises caused by, or that result in, unexpected one-time expenses. These include rent arrears, medical expenses, homelessness or threat of eviction, and back-up transportation or car repairs. One-time costs associated with these sudden events are often less than $1,500.

Emergency grants programs are often constrained in funding resources and cannot meet the demand for aid, which leads institutions to limit marketing of the availability of funds in fear of opening the floodgates. Furthermore, these programs often do not track the impact of their aid dissemination on student retention, making it difficult to identify best practices.

We conceived of and funded a Student Emergency Fund to help State University of New York (SUNY) students facing a financial emergency get assistance in the short term so they can graduate in the long term. The SUNY Impact Foundation administers the program at six campuses: University at Albany, University at Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo State, Dutchess Community College, SUNY Oneonta, and SUNY Orange. The Fund has already shown dramatic improvement in retention rates. Of the 120 students in the first cohort receiving aid in spring 2018, 87.5% persisted or graduated from a two- or four-year college by spring 2019. In the second cohort, of the 170 fall 2018 recipients, 90.6% persisted or graduated by spring 2019.

Campuses are also seeing a catalytic impact, including an increase in fundraising from other sources (with one senior class donating its senior gift to the program) and increases in the numbers of students coming forward seeking help and obtaining other forms of campus assistance who had not come forward in the past.