Unmet financial need remains a significant barrier to degree completion for many low‐income students, especially those in their final year of college – when savings are often exhausted and traditional need-based financial aid proves insufficient in covering students’ expenses. Nearly 15 percent of students with three‐quarters of their required credits fulfilled leave college without degrees, often due to financial constraints.
In an effort to ensure cash‐strapped students with a proven record of academic success do not drop out due to financial need, some path‐breaking public universities are offering completion grants of a few hundred dollars to help students make tuition payments as they near graduation. In 2018, drawing on the lessons from some of these institutions' work, APLU issued a learning brief on completion grants.
The grants have proven highly effective in driving graduation gains so far. At Georgia State University, for example, students receiving completion grants had a graduation rate 134 percent higher two terms after the grant than similar students who received no completion grant.
In 2016, USU and APLU issued a report examining five distinct models for retention or completion grant programs. The report, Foiling the Drop‐out Trap: Completion Grant Practices for Retaining and Graduating Students, is rooted in research on ten public urban serving universities that have successfully implemented such grant programs.
In 2016, USU and APLU awarded $450,000 in grants to nine APLU-USU universities to help institutions launch or expand micro-grant programs that concluded in 2018. The grants strengthened the infrastructures of institutions already serving a significant share of non-traditional, disadvantaged students who are low-income, first-generation, Pell Grant-eligible and minorities.
Joining with researchers at Temple University and the University of Wisconsin, APLU and USU are now building on this work by undertaking a rigorous empirical review of completion grants’ efficacy at seven institutions. The randomized‐controlled study is funded with a five‐year, $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.
The seven APLU institutions participating in the initial, one‐and‐a‐half year phase of the study are Arizona State University, Florida International University, IUPUI, Kent State University, the University of North Carolina‐Charlotte, the non‐Columbus campuses of The Ohio State University, and Virginia Commonwealth University. Three additional APLU institutions will be eligible to participate in the second phase of the grant. Eight institutions will then be selected from the total of 10 eligible institutions.