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Venture Philanthropy / Targeted Problem-Solving

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 such as rent arrears, medical expenses, homelessness or threat of eviction, and back-up transportation/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.

The Great Lakes Higher Education Foundation funded an emergency grants program which, over the three-year grant period, resulted in 73% of Pell-eligible emergency grant recipients either graduating or remaining enrolled, compared to 67% before the program began and 59% for all students attending a public two-year institution in the US. Great Lakes has continued to fund this program, which now reaches 32 two- and four-year institutions in Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Of the students who received an emergency grant in spring 2016, 88% remained enrolled in fall 2016 compared to 74% of all Pell-eligible students at the institutions.

Together with the Gerstner Family Foundation (GFF), which has long supported such programs, the foundation crafted a Student Emergency Fund program to help State University of New York (SUNY) students facing a financial emergency get assistance in the short term so they can graduate from college in the long term.

The SUNY Impact Foundation will administer the Heckscher/GFF program, collect data, and study the effects of the emergency funding. Initial grant awards, dependent upon undergraduate enrollment, range from $50,000 to $100,000 per SUNY campus with an additional 10% of the grant amount available to cover direct administrative expenses. Grants were awarded to seven SUNY campuses: University at Albany, University at Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo State, Cayuga Community College, Dutchess Community College, SUNY Oneonta, and SUNY Orange.