Two-thirds of students in need didn’t apply for emergency aid, report finds

A new report from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University takes stock of the billions in emergency student aid authorized by Congress during the pandemic, exploring how students were able to access those funds. The insights, the researchers write, can help shape student support well beyond the pandemic, as “knowing how to deliver emergency aid at scale will be essential to the well-being of future students.”

For the study spanning September 2020 to October 2021, the Hope Center surveyed 195,000 students across 202 institutions—primarily community colleges, public universities, and minority-serving institutions—as well as staff and administrators. Researchers also convened focus groups at 23 of those schools. The surveys revealed a lack of awareness: two-thirds of college students who experienced basic needs insecurity during the pandemic had not applied for emergency aid.

Barriers limiting use of available support

The report also highlights racial and ethnic disparities in aid awareness. Fifty-three percent of white students said they knew the aid was available, compared to 44 percent of Black students and 45 percent of Latinx students. Of the Black and Latinx students who had not applied for aid, two-thirds said they needed it, compared to 44 percent of white students who had not applied for aid.

Among students who did receive aid, nearly 70 percent said the aid increased their chance of graduating, 82 percent said it improved their well-being, and 76 percent said it made them feel like their college cared about them.

Related: Survey finds 3 in 5 college students report basic needs insecurity >

Timing also was a barrier for some, as students waited 13 days, on average, between submitting their application and receiving funds. Some were unsure “about program availability, eligibility, and sustainability,” the researchers note, adding that the U.S. Department of Education’s shifting guidance complicated program administration. Noting that speed matters when delivering emergency aid, the report recommends that institutions assess—and shorten—the amount of time it takes to complete each phase.

Urging colleges and universities to remove unnecessary red tape from emergency aid programs, the Hope Center report highlights the student-friendly approach at Grambling State University, a historically Black institution in Louisiana, where staff simply asked Title IV students applying for aid if the pandemic had disrupted their lives.

Whatever their eligibility criteria, colleges should set it “distinct from traditional financial aid programs” and make sure that students understand it and know about available support. The Hope Center suggests hiring students who have completed emergency aid applications themselves to help review program marketing materials—and ensuring they’re shared far and wide.

Finally, the report includes recommendations for Congress, urging legislators to make emergency aid a “permanent feature” on campuses, and calls on the U.S. Department of Education to provide technical assistance to help institutions orchestrate equitable application processes.

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