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Great Lakes Shares Best Practices from Three-Year Emergency Grant Program

Colleges Nationwide Can Leverage Lessons to Increase Completion Rates

—Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation releases a report highlighting best practices gleaned from its 2012-2015 Emergency Grant Assistance Program.

In 2012, Great Lakes awarded $1.5 million to establish emergency grant programs at each of the 16 colleges of the Wisconsin Technical College System. The colleges used the Great Lakes funds, plus additional funds of their own, to help low-income students at risk of dropping out due to unforeseen financial emergencies. During the three-year grant period, nearly 2,700 students received emergency grants averaging $500. Without these grants—which provided assistance with transportation, housing, medical and child care costs—many of the students would have left college to focus on work to pay their bills.

Data reported by the colleges indicates that the grants had the intended effect: 73 percent of students who received emergency grants stayed in college or graduated. By comparison, the National Center for Education Statistics reports a 59 percent retention rate for all students at public two-year institutions.

"We're pleased to learn that these relatively small grants had the power to help low-income students overcome financial barriers and stay on the path to college completion," said Amy Kerwin, Vice President — Community Investments at Great Lakes. "We're equally pleased to share best practices for successful emergency grant programs gleaned from the experience of our grant partners. We hope this information is helpful to colleges looking to add emergency grants as another tool to increase completion rates."

Sara Goldrick-Rab is a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of educational policy studies and sociology, and founding director of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. She has studied the impact of emergency grants and isn't surprised by the results of the Great Lakes program.

"We find that improving students' financial positions in college leads to higher graduation rates,” Goldrick-Rab said. "By complementing the existing financial aid system, and helping to compensate for some of its key weaknesses, emergency grants can help ensure that students have their basic needs met so that they can focus on their education."

Based on the promising results of the 2012-2015 Emergency Grant Assistance Program, Great Lakes has already provided a second round of emergency grants to support more students, at more colleges, in more places. In December 2015, Great Lakes awarded $1.5 million in Dash emergency grants to 31 technical and community colleges across Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. Upwards of 4,000 students are expected to receive vital emergency grants over the duration of the 2016-2018 grant period.

To read the full Emergency Grant Assistance Program best practices report, visit

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