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APLU and Urban Serving Universities Release Report & Implementation Guide on How Universities Can Use Micro-Grants to Turn Would-Be Dropouts into College Graduates

February 22, 2016

Washington, DC – Determined to prevent low-income college students nearing graduation from dropping out, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) today released a report and implementation guide detailing how universities can use micro-grants to ensure such students complete their degree.

Foiling the Drop-Out Trap, Completion Grant Practices for Retaining and Graduating Students details the success of these micro-grant student aid programs at 10 public urban research institutions. A key element of the report is a how-to manual designed to help campuses and stakeholders explore, replicate, or scale similar retention and completion grant programs on campuses across the country. 

For many students facing modest financial shortfalls, micro-grants can make the difference between students staying on the path toward graduation and dropping out. Micro-grants are aimed at low-income students who are on track for graduation, but at risk of dropping out due to small financial shortfalls. These targeted aid programs have proven highly effective at ensuring these students stay enrolled in class and make progress toward their degree, ultimately helping them graduate.

“These grant programs offer students a renewed ability to complete their education.  They are relatively inexpensive and have proven to be quite successful, which is why we want to see similar programs implemented at universities across the country,” said Shari Garmise, Vice President for USU/APLU’s Office of Urban Initiatives.  “Institutions must be daring and proactive in helping financially needy students graduate, especially when they’ve done their part to get so close to crossing the finish line.”

The grant programs detailed in the report and how-to guide target students who are academically on track and often a semester or two away from completing degrees, but have been derailed by financial need as low as $300, often due to unexpected needs. Because many low-income students lack the necessary savings and family support or are unaware of other financial aid options, they frequently put off addressing the problem. Students are subsequently often automatically dropped from campus rolls for non-payment of fees, while others just give up and drop out of school on their own.  The grants help students avert both scenarios. 

Ten schools and programs are profiled in the report:  Boise State University, Florida International University, Georgia State University, Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis, Morgan State University, University of Memphis, the University of Akron, University of Washington-Tacoma, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Wayne State University

The report details how these institutions’ micro-grant programs are transforming campus financial aid, advising, and community engagement and producing positive benefits for students and their institutions. Many of the students targeted are low-income, first generation, and minorities.  The big payoff is higher retention and degree completion rates for academically solid students who could be thrown off track without the micro-grants. 

Among the program models highlighted in the report are the:

  • Finish Line Program, the University of Memphis degree completion program.
  • Panther Retention Grant Program offered by Georgia State University catch at-risk students with genuine unmet financial need on track for graduation.
  • Reclamation Initiative developed by Morgan State University to help reclaim dropped out students.
  • Home Stretch Program, the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis completion program for  students in their fifth or sixth year of study, and   
  • The Graduation Funds Program offered by Virginia Commonwealth University to support students nearing graduation who have not registered for their final semester.

To engage more institutions in creating retention and completion practices, APLU held a workshop at its annual meeting in November at which four of the universities featured in the report detailed their efforts.  Following the annual meeting, APLU opened a competitive grant process in which public universities applied to each receive $50,000 in grant funding to help design their own retention and completion programs or scale up existing pilots.  APLU will announce the winners of the competitive grant competition in the coming weeks.

The Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation and Lumina Foundation funded the research for the report, the workshop and the replication effort.  Chad B. Anderson and Patricia E. Steele of Higher Ed Insight co-authored on behalf of USU and APLU.  

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