For the majority of underserved students in New York City who wish to attend college away from home, the State University of New York (SUNY) colleges are the most accessible and cost-effective options. In order to increase the likelihood that these students will succeed in college, we created a Student Emergency Fund at six SUNY campuses that has already shown dramatic impact on retention and graduation rates.
The financial aid system often falls short when it comes to supporting college students who are at risk of dropping out 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. In partnership with the Gerstner Family Foundation, our Student Emergency Fund helps 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, collects data, and studies the effects of the emergency funding. Our grants, dependent upon undergraduate enrollment, permit each campus to award up to $2,000 per student.
Recipients of the Student Emergency Fund have shown substantially higher achievement rates than the general campus populations. Their combined persistence and graduation rates totaled 91%, 86%, and 88% (undergraduate, first-time, full-time, baccalaureate, and associate seeking students) one, two, and three semesters after receiving funds, respectively. Comparatively, the SUNY retention rate for the same cohort of students one, two, and three years in was 70%, 49%, and 36%, respectively.
Thousands of SUNY students have applied for emergency funding, and 54.5% of applicants have received it. The pilot program continues to show that even students who do not receive funding find help in other ways because of this initiative. They connect with program staff who direct them to other available resources they hadn’t considered or of which they were not aware.