Every year, thousands of students within striking distance of completing their academic program are prevented from enrolling in classes for their final semester or year because of a small unpaid balance on their school account—tuition, lab fees, parking tickets, library fines or any number of other institutional charges. At many schools, a senior who has invested thousands of dollars in his or her education may be unable to graduate due to even a relatively small outstanding bill.
Completion grants—microgrants made to at–risk students within a semester or two of graduating—have proven to be an effective tool for eliminating this barrier. Great Lakes is partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund a $4 million grant to pilot and evaluate completion grant programs across the University Innovation Alliance (UIA), a group of 11 major public research universities that collaborate to implement innovative projects designed to promote the success of underrepresented students.
The UIA pilots will be modeled on alliance member Georgia State University's Panther Retention Grant program. Since its launch in 2011, the program has helped more than 8,000 at–risk students persist in their education with awards averaging $900. It is a key component of a strategy that has resulted in impressive improvement in the graduation rate—particularly among low–income students and students of color—at GSU.
Through this project, we hope to gain a better understanding of how to establish and administer an effective completion grant program, and how to replicate the Panther program's impressive results.To learn more about the UIA pilots, visit community.mygreatlakes.org.