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Tip of the Week: Emergency Funds

By Dan Fotoples, J.D., M.A., Senior Content Developer, TNG Consulting

Throughout the country, students continue to face challenges meeting their basic needs. In response, many institutions have identified existing basic needs resources in the community or, conversely, developed their own institutional resources to offer their students. From food pantries to designating on-campus housing for students experiencing homelessness, basic needs resources and staffing are becoming more commonplace. But what about basic needs that can only be met with money?

One solution is to create a process to provide students with emergency funding for basic needs. Some examples may include providing funds for a housing deposit or rent, car repairs, traveling home for a family emergency, or an unexpected medical bill. Students may be one emergency or unexpected bill away from dropping out of school and possibly never returning. An emergency fund program exists to prevent those one-time cash shortfalls from sidelining a student’s academic progress.

The thought of giving money to students to spend on their personal needs may be an adjustment for many institutions, especially as budgets continue to tighten. Data retention numbers and assessment, collected over time, can help build a case for emergency funding. As you consider whether your institution can or should develop an emergency fund program, here are some considerations and recommendations:

  • Design a simple application and simple process. Emergency funds need to be available quickly. Such is the nature of emergencies, after all.
  • Choose members for the emergency funds team who are nimble and able to attend meetings or render decisions quickly.
  • Assign a leader to oversee the process and manage payments.
  • Consider partnering with local businesses, such as auto shops or apartment complexes, to create a streamlined process to render services and payment. Memoranda of understanding can be helpful.
  • Determine the maximum amount available to each student per request and how often they may apply for and receive funds.
  • Identify the criteria to approve requests and mechanisms to track requests.
  • Recommend and/or require case management or social work support for successful applicants. Extra support can help prevent future financial crises from occurring.
  • Determine any financial aid ramifications for successful applicants.
  • Collaborate with major gifts and development professionals to identify financing sources from alumni and other donors.
  • Decide whether you will limit or prohibit any types of requests, such as tuition payments or other student account issues.
  • If you will limit or prohibit requests for tuition and fees, ensure that you have a mechanism to disburse the funds without applying them directly to the student’s institutional account.

Emergency funding can make all the difference for students facing a basic needs crisis. Whether your institution has implemented emergency funding, is currently building or improving your program, or has not yet considered basic needs funding, NABITA is ready and available to advise you on effective practices we see across the field. Many NABITA members are already doing this valuable work and have tremendous insight, too. Check out NABITA’s Student Emergency Funds: Lessons from the Field webinar for additional ideas.

Read more NABITA Tip of the Week blogs here.