Ascendium Education Group Shares Lessons Learned from College Emergency Grant Program

March 19, 2019

REPORT EMPHASIZES CULTURAL SHIFT TO HOLISTIC STUDENT SUPPORT

Madison, Wis.—Since 2012, Ascendium Education Group (formerly Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates) has invested $13.6 million in four separate grant projects aimed at helping colleges establish, administer and sustain emergency grant programs. In its newly-released report, “A Broader View of Emergency Aid: Toward a More Holistic Approach to Helping Students Weather a Financial Crisis,” Ascendium details how colleges have learned to probe for the underlying issues that contribute to financial emergencies, and are connecting students to community agencies as well as offering enhanced campus resources.

While the report offers many lessons learned and insights, three key messages prevail:

  • Colleges created an institutional culture where students feel safe asking for help.
  • Colleges are more aware of students’ holistic needs.
  • Emergency aid is a vital retention tool.

For many low-income students, an unforeseen car repair or medical bill can mean the end of their college hopes. While typically not large expenses, they can be enough to force these students into a tough choice: stay in college or pay the bill. Since its inception, Ascendium’s Dash Emergency Grant Program has helped more than 100 two- and four-year colleges throughout the U.S. implement emergency grant programs on their own campuses.

The latest report shares stories from many of the colleges Ascendium has partnered with, including Mount Mary University.

“The Dash Grant Program gives students the power to advocate for themselves at their time of need,” said Sarah Olejniczak, Mount Mary University Dean for Student Affairs. “It’s given students a name for their concern and a process to bring those concerns to the right people.”

One of the most important lessons learned is that effectively helping students experiencing a financial emergency involves more than just cutting checks.

“It requires a holistic approach that gets to the root causes of students’ financial challenges and helps them access the supports they need, whether on campus or in the community,” said Amy Kerwin, Vice President – Education Philanthropy at Ascendium. “That approach has led to cultural change at many of our partner colleges, resulting in better collaboration across departments, better connections with outside organizations and a keener focus on the needs of the ‘whole’ student.”