October 27, 2021
As federal policymakers debate major investments in higher education, including a $9B “college completion fund,” new research from The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice highlights the need to focus on how funds are delivered to students.
“Over the last year, Congress has given colleges and universities from coast to coast $75 billion in relief, over $30 billion of which must be spent on emergency aid—a potentially transformative investment that could help millions survive the pandemic and reach graduation. But for those dollars to help, they must reach students fast. Colleges and universities need structures and systems for that work, and right now most don’t have them,” said Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, President and Founder of The Hope Center.
During the 2020-2021 academic year, researchers collected data from more than 195,000 students and staff at the 202 institutions they attended. They learned that 66% of students with food, housing, or other needs did not apply for emergency aid. Colleges and universities struggled to make students aware that dollars were available, had difficulty establishing and implementing equitable eligibility standards, and distributing large amounts of money fast. This is mainly because the bureaucratic structures built for traditional financial aid are not useful for distributing fast cash to large numbers of students during a crisis.
Some institutions, including Grambling State University, Metropolitan State University Denver, University of Hawaii Hilo, and Normandale Community College innovated by cutting red tape, but many others did not. On average, students waited about 2 weeks to receive financial support at a time when they needed it much more quickly.
The report concludes that federal emergency aid will be needed for years to come and that its effective delivery requires investing in the administration of emergency aid programs. A corresponding brief also examines the particular challenges facing students with children and highlights lessons learned for supporting them with emergency aid.
This research is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Imaginable Futures, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.