Each year countless students who have made satisfactory progress toward a postsecondary credential leave higher education due to unforeseen financial roadblocks.  In fact, in an NCES study, 31%  of students who stopped out of higher education reported that they left their institutions due to financial reasons.  If institutions, states, and local communities are going to expand the number of students who complete a postsecondary credential, figuring out solutions to support students when they encounter financial barriers must remain a high priority.

In 2011, Georgia State University (GSU) piloted the Panther Retention Grants program, which offers small micro-grants to students with unmet financial need in their final semesters of study.  In developing the program, Georgia State University staff mined years of academic data to determine which students would benefit most from the program.  In their analysis, staff found that over 1000 students were dropped from classes each semester for non-payment. In an effort to reverse this trend, Georgia State identified upper-division students with balances under $2500, who met the GPA threshold and had exhausted all other forms of financial aid and reached out to them to offer financial assistance and support to keep them enrolled in their classes.

Today, the average panther grant received by students is approximately $900. Students who receive the micro-grant agree to attend a meeting with a financial counselor and complete an online financial literacy course.  The program has outstanding results. Since 2011, 86% of Panther Retention Grant recipients have gone on to graduate from Georgia State University.

In a cost-benefit analysis of the program, Georgia State found that there were minimal administrative cost associated with program management given that many of the staff functions were part of existing processes within the financial aid office.  Across the country, there has been an increase in the development of micro-grants programs given their success in helping students across the finish line. In a survey of campus administrators, 33% indicated that their institution has developed a completion grant program for students with unmet financial-need.

The Georgia State University Panther Retention Grants program illustrates the important role that state and institutional leaders play in helping students address the unforeseen roadblocks they may encounter during their college journey.  Institutions, states, and local communities who are interested in expanding the number of students who enroll in and succeed in higher education may wish to consider ways that they might work collaboratively to increase the availability of micro-grant funding programs. 

For more information about micro-grant funding programs as a level up strategy or to share your own Level Up story, please contact us.