Emergency grants are gaining popularity among colleges as effective tools to help students from low-income families overcome unexpected financial setbacks and stay enrolled. To assist more colleges as they launch these programs, Great Lakes and other funders have shared best practices with the field over the past five years.

Our collective knowledge on processes and procedures has been helpful to colleges as they set up their programs, but we've overlooked a critical part—the "human element" in deciding who gets a grant and who doesn't. Current training doesn't cover how to navigate beyond basic eligibility criteria. There are no guidelines for asking the right questions to get at the root cause of each student's financial emergency. And some staff members—who have little experience making decisions that directly affect students in financial crisis—need more holistic training to feel confident making awards.


That's why we partnered with the nonprofit research firm Equal Measure to fund the development of better tools for emergency grant decision-makers. Supported by a $128,000 grant, this project:

  • Explored the decision-making process through focus groups and interviews with current and past Great Lakes Dash Emergency Grant recipients to learn how they decide whether to award emergency grants.
  • Developed training materials to help emergency grant administrators become more confident in the decision-making process, including a handbook, checklists and self-assessment guides.

By providing training materials to emergency grant staff, we can help them make decisions that prevent eligible students from dropping out. We want to make sure students facing an unexpected financial crisis get the boost they need to stay on the path to graduation, and we’re pleased to share Equal Measure’s toolkit (see sidebar) with the field.


Contact Senior Program Officer Sue Cui at