Emergency aid network equips faculty, staff to help students facing financial hardship

Three in five college students reported basic needs insecurity in the fall of 2020, with students at two-year colleges and students of color experiencing the most need. Witnessing this on their own campuses, some colleges’ faculty, staff, and their unions are working with a program called FAST Fund, which helps professors and staff set up an emergency aid fund that they can use to quickly and discreetly help students facing financial challenges, EdSurge reports.

Report: Emergency grant programs help college students persist, graduate >

An acronym for “Faculty and Students Together,” FAST Fund, a flagship program of the basic needs nonprofit Believe in Students, has sites at 33 participating colleges and universities across the country, including The Ohio State University, Rutgers University, and George Mason University.

Although the funds are based at these campuses, they are faculty-led and operate independently of their institutions, complementing any existing institutional emergency aid programs. Believe in Students, the coordinating nonprofit for the network of FAST Funds, notes that students are likely to seek out their professors in times of crisis. Believe in Students seeds the funds initially, with the expectation that faculty teams will raise additional funds from their colleagues, unions, and local philanthropic partners to sustain their support for students. FAST Fund asks that participating sites design their processes to help students without burdensome applications, long waits, or excessive paperwork.

Related: Food scholarships, meal-swipe drives, and more: Emerging ways to meet basic needs >

Students typically can apply for FAST Fund aid by filing a simple Google form. They receive a response within hours or days, with funds distributed directly to students from their professors. Collectively, the program has distributed more than $1 million in aid, says Traci Kirtley, executive director of Believe in Students.

‘We’re in the thick of it with the students.’

Advocates of the approach say that faculty are crucial players in ensuring that students can quickly access funds for emergency expenses that threaten their academic success.

“We’re in the thick of it with the students. We see what they’re going through,” Amanda Flanagan, Assistant to the Chair for the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stony Brook University and site leader for the United University Professions FAST Fund at the university, says of faculty who hear about their students’ financial struggles. “A lot of us were in that situation at one point or another.”

Experts also hope that professors’ visibility into student needs can lead to greater advocacy for institutional changes that reduce financial barriers to college completion for low-income students. Although the Fund offers a quick solution for students in need, Justin Nalley, a senior policy analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, says, “something like that is supplemental. Things need to be addressed at a more systemic and public policy level.”

Related: Colleges staff up to address basic needs insecurity >

Some colleges have responded to that need for systemic change by establishing basic needs centers on their own campuses, and the federal government’s Basic Needs for Postsecondary Students Program now awards grants to eligible colleges and universities to support programs that address students’ basic needs. In January, the U.S. Department of Education made 14 awards totaling over $13 million, Forbes reports.

Georgetown Scholars Program Necessity Fund

In its commitment to ensuring students have the resources they need to thrive, Georgetown University began providing modest grants in 2010 to students encountering unexpected out-of-pocket expenses. Funded by our generous donor community and administered by the university’s Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP)—a nationally recognized model for supporting first-generation and low-income students—the GSP Necessity Fund now distributes several thousand grants annually. Thanks to a generous anonymous challenge match from a foundation and support from additional donors, GSP is nearing its goal to permanently endow the program’s Necessity Fund. Learn more >

EdSurge, Forbes
Topics in this story

Next Up

New report shows how states limit access to higher education for undocumented students

Depending where undocumented students reside, they may encounter policies that prohibit them from receiving in-state tuition, food and housing assistance, and other services that they would need to achieve social and economic mobility.