Many students — particularly first-generation, low-income students — are highly susceptible to dropping out of college due to a financial hardship. Facing a gap in tuition and fees may give them little choice but to stop attending classes when there is nowhere else to turn for help. While it can happen at any stage of a student's experience, it is compounded when the student is within a year of graduating. Students who stop attending near the end of their programs often have amassed a degree's worth of student loan debt. Without the earning power a credential or degree can provide, they can struggle to repay what they owe.
The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU), with research funding from Lumina Foundation and Great Lakes, explored how retention and completion grant programs at urban-serving universities with diverse student populations are being used to help students graduate. The result is a comprehensive report (see sidebar) of best practices for universities to consider when creating or expanding a student retention or degree completion grant program.
Armed with the knowledge that college completion grants work, Great Lakes and Lumina Foundation have also made two-year grants of $50,000 to each of nine colleges as part of the APLU's latest completion grant program. Great Lakes is supporting Cleveland State University, Kent State University, The Ohio State University and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. The funding is being used to implement and administer the grant program at these institutions already serving a significant percentage of low-income, first generation and minority students.
The completion micro-grants themselves are being self-funded by the institutions and each may use different approaches to structuring, implementing and administering their own grant programs. All of the institutions are targeting students with genuine unmet financial need who are within one year of graduation but may be forced to drop out because of a financial hardship.
Completion grants have been distributed for a minimum of four semesters at all nine sub-grantees. In the most recent fall semester, the nine institutions supported 475 students. Of all the students that colleges supported during fall 2016, approximately 98% of these students either graduated or returned for spring 2017 semester.
APLU has secured a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Institute for Education Science that will evaluate completion grants and increase the number of colleges implementing them. This complementary project will increase knowledge within the field about the most effective strategies for scaling completion grant programs.
Contact Senior Program Officer Sue Cui at email@example.com.