- Students who received emergency grants from a completion program at Georgia State University graduated more quickly than their counterparts, according to a new report from Ithaka S+R, an educational research nonprofit. The grants benefited Pell Grant recipients and students from underrepresented racial or ethnic backgrounds similarly.
- The university’s Panther Retention Grant program automatically awards students up to $2,500 to clear unpaid balances and stay enrolled for the term.
- Grant recipients also had less overall debt, likely due to fewer tuition payments from graduating sooner. They owed an average of $3,728 less than nonrecipients, which is more than the value of the funding they received. However, the report did not find that the retention grants definitively raised overall graduation rates.
Almost 38% of U.S. undergraduates do not finish their degrees within six years, according to the latest data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. In a 2021 survey, 42% of adults ages 20 to 34 who dropped out of college cited financial reasons for leaving. Colleges may face lower student success outcomes, as well as reduced enrollment and lost tuition revenue, if they don’t take corrective action and offer support to students at risk of dropping out.
Georgia State is working to combat that problem with retention grants and has grown its program into one of the largest and best known of its kind, according to Daniel Rossman, senior researcher at Ithaka S+R’s educational transformation program and co-author of the report. To date, the university has given out more than 10,000 grants under the program.
“Georgia State started this program at a pretty low scale, with around 100 awards given early on,” Rossman said. “A key part was their use of real-time data and continuous review to understand what was happening. If institutions are able to do that, I think it could potentially be successful in other contexts.”
Officials initially focused on distributing grants to first-year students when the program launched in 2011. However, they pivoted to seniors when they recognized the funds would not prevent most students from facing further financial challenges after their first year. Data also showed seniors made up a large portion of the students who were being dropped for nonpayment.
Three departments at Georgia State work in tandem to run the grant program — the financial aid, advising and registrar’s offices.
“It takes collaboration and communication between different groups within an institution,” said Rossman.
The program focuses on students on track to graduate but at risk of dropping out due to outstanding balances who have exhausted all other aid sources.
“Their primary goal for this program was to help students cross that finish line and earn a degree,” Rossman said.
The small financial awards ultimately pay for themselves on Georgia State’s balance sheet, according to Rossman. The program is believed to have brought the university between $4 million and $7.8 million in revenue, according to the report.
“The tuition revenue they get from students who receive a PRG and remain enrolled is much greater than the program’s cost,” he said.
The report utilizes data through the 2018-19 academic year, prior to the coronavirus pandemic. In the wake of the health crisis, the conversations around student success will continue to include small emergency grants, according to Rossman.
“Programs like the Panther Retention Grant program, or completion grants more broadly, are more important than ever as questions and issues of affordability grow in a post-pandemic world,” he said.