Georgetown Scholars Program nears $20M goal to permanently fund emergency aid for first-gen and low-income students

Thanks to a generous anonymous challenge match from a foundation and support from additional donors, the Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP) is close to fulfilling its ambition to permanently endow the program’s Necessity Fund, which provides modest grants to students encountering unexpected, out-of-pocket expenses.

GSP distributes several thousand of these microgrants annually as part of its broader commitment to creating a more equitable college experience for first-generation and low-income college students. This recent effort builds on the program’s overall endowment, finalized in 2019, which helps sustain the program’s foundational operations in perpetuity.

Now, with the momentum of several lead gifts from alumni volunteers and GSP board members, the program is building out a separate, dedicated $20 million endowment to ensure the Necessity Fund can meet students’ evolving needs and fulfill an ambitious vision for future growth.

“For many of us, especially those who are first-generation college graduates, we remember all too well how financial stressors could disrupt our education and even our post-college careers,” says GSP Board Chair Mike Williams (F’98, Law ‘01). “I still recall breaking my ankle as a student and dealing with medical bills that haunted me for years. We hope to take some of these worries off current students’ shoulders so they can focus on earning their degree and taking advantage of the opportunities that Georgetown offers.”

Year-round resources to ensure students thrive

Since its creation in 2004, GSP has evolved to provide financial assistance and robust wraparound services for hundreds of students each year—including access to mental health counseling, a course co-created by a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor on navigating higher education’s “hidden curriculum,” peer and alumni mentors, tutoring, career development events, and a close-knit community.

Related: The push to reveal higher ed’s ‘hidden curriculum’ >

GSP nurtures a network of faculty, staff, volunteers, alumni mentors, and peer advocates who collectively support a resilient on-campus community. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center study, the average graduation rate for first-generation college students is 26% in the U.S. For first-generation undergraduate students enrolled in GSP, it’s 95 percent.

A ‘model program’ for providing emergency aid

The financial assistance GSP delivers through the Necessity Fund is essential to this success and has been hailed as a “model program” by Inside Higher Ed. Georgetown began providing these grants in 2010, supporting needs such as medical co-pays, emergency travel, professional attire, winter clothing, wisdom teeth removal, and grocery stipends when the school cafeteria is closed. 

Students facing financial emergencies complete a short grant form explaining their situation and can receive funds via direct deposit in a few days. It is a crucial complement to undergraduates’ financial aid packages, ensuring that they can focus their energy on academic achievement and the college experience at a time when most Americans could not otherwise afford a $1,000 emergency expense.

Related: Preventing small, unexpected expenses from becoming big obstacles >

Scholarships are “only one step in the journey of providing students with all that they need to thrive,” says Laura Desmarais (C’85), who made a significant pledge to the endowment. “We think it is an important sign of Georgetown’s commitment to these students that endowing the Necessity Fund has been set as a priority.”

Committing to reduce unnecessary financial barriers

For alumnus Andy Marquez (SFS’21), that commitment was pivotal. “I knew that if I was going to get through college, especially with parents who did not speak English and did not understand the process, I would need a village to help me through,” he says.

Related: ‘It felt like Georgetown was built for us’: First-gen student reflects on his GSP experience >

In 2017, Marquez enrolled at Georgetown and became part of both GSP and the Community Scholars Program (CSP), an academic program founded more than 50 years ago that provides holistic support for multicultural first-generation college students. Marquez says that, throughout his undergraduate education, GSP was his “one-stop-shop for everything: academic, emotional, mental needs. They even paid for my emergency root canal surgery.”

Another GSP graduate (C’19) recalls how the Necessity Fund was there to help when their mother had a stroke: “I needed to fly home to be with her. However, I did not have the money. GSP provided me with an emergency grant to go home and spend the quality time I needed with my mother.”

Philanthropic support to meet growing needs

Student need for this flexible assistance has increased significantly: the number of Necessity Fund grant awards distributed annually has grown more than 104% in the past six years. And in FY22, 91.4% of GSP students used the Necessity Fund. 

Students also are helping to shape the fund’s use, ensuring that GSP continues to align with students’ needs. For example, during his time on the GSP Student Board during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Marquez created a Learn from Home grant through the Necessity Fund, recognizing that it would be difficult for many low-income students to attend Georgetown virtually without supplemental resources. “Hundreds of students used the grant to buy monitors, keyboards, desks, chairs, lamps, you name it,” Marquez says.

While Georgetown’s philanthropic community has to date funded emergency microgrants through year-to-year current-use giving, relying on that funding model has its risks and limitations. A dedicated $20 million endowment will help ensure GSP can meet students’ evolving needs in perpetuity.

“The past few years underscored the importance of making this crucial funding permanent,” says GSP Program Director Missy Foy. “It is especially a relief to know that students can continue to rely on Georgetown and GSP even if other safety nets disappear. Knowing they have access to this fund provides incredible peace of mind to students and is no doubt a driver of our high graduation rate.”

Once fully funded, the endowment not only will provide permanent resources in support of low-income and first-generation students but also will free resources for other priorities. A robust Necessity Fund Endowment will enable GSP staff to spend even more time with students, streamline the grant review process, enhance existing grants, create new grants—and help ensure that every student can thrive at Georgetown.

Interested in supporting the Necessity Fund endowment?

Through the incredible generosity of our donors, GSP as of December 2022 had $18.1 million committed toward its $20 million goal. We now seek to raise the remaining funds needed to fully realize our vision and permanently endow the Necessity Fund. Giving to the Necessity Fund is a direct investment in Georgetown students—every dollar raised goes directly to those with the greatest need. Learn more > 

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