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To graduate or not to graduate? The emergency aid challenge

Reos Partners
August, 2019


Driving home from college in a rural area of the U.S. one night, Valerie Luciano’s car began to fail. For many, this would be a simple fix: take the car in for repair. But for Valerie, who could not afford the repair, this presented a dilemma that could impact the rest of her life. Without a car in a region with no public transportation, she would be unable to get to class and be forced to drop out -- leaving behind her scholarship and possibly her only opportunity to get a degree.

Lorain County Community College – one of the institutions engaged in Reos Partners’
Emergency Aid Lab – stepped in and provided Valerie with $500 in emergency aid (EA), just enough to cover the car repair and help Valerie stay in school and graduate. Valerie has since gone on to pursue her dream of getting a nursing degree.

Valerie’s story is just one example of how EA can make all the difference for a student in crisis. Crises are common. An estimated three million students drop out of post-secondary school in the United States annually due to a small, unexpected expense, such as a medical bill, an increase in childcare costs, or a housing fee.

Research conducted by NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education) found that 70 percent of U.S. post-secondary institutions offer some form of emergency aid (EA), yet most requests are handled on a case by case basis. Very few institutions have an established program that ensures student retention. Students are falling through the cracks because many institutions do not have effective programs in place.

With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Reos Partners has been working with higher education leaders in the Emergency Aid Lab on a solution to the emergency aid challenge – a program that helps institutions design EA programs that increase student retention and completion. Through the lab, more than 100 higher education administrators, faculty, students, and other leaders in the field worked together over 18 months to determine the core components of an effective EA program.

Reos Partners is now translating these learnings into a program for adoption by institutions across the United States, with the aim of dramatically reducing the incidence of students leaving school because of an unexpected financial shortfall.

The Roadmap to Effective Emergency Aid

Reos Partners’ program, the Roadmap to Effective Emergency Aid, will provide colleges and universities with everything they need -- tools, resources, guidance, and collaborative and experimental practices -- to transform informal emergency aid efforts into a comprehensive program that drives results. The program will have three components:

  • An online course that guides participants through the process of creating an effective EA program, and provides skill development, collaborative and experimental practices, and practical tools derived from the Emergency Aid Lab
  • Coaching for those leading EA programs on campuses
  • Convenings of campus EA team members to support teams in working in a systemic, experimental, and collaborative way and accelerating progress on their EA programs. These workshops will also foster relationship-building and idea-sharing across institutions.

EEA - Roadmap

Watch this video to learn more about the Roadmap and how it was developed.

The Roadmap will be complete by the end of 2019 and cohorts of 10-15 institutions will begin using the Roadmap in 2020. Reos Partners aims to offer the Roadmap to hundreds of institutions across the U.S. over the next five years.

A Bold Experiment

Reos Partners’ has more than 20 years of experience designing and guiding processes that enable stakeholders to make progress on their toughest, most complex challenges. Reos’ team excels at achieving breakthrough outcomes through in-person, face-to-face workshops.

For a system like U.S. higher education that has more than 5,000 institutions, Reos Partners is innovating around how to complement its in-person work with digital technology to achieve scale. The Roadmap to Effective Emergency Aid provides an opportunity for Reos Partners to explore how an online, interactive course can be coupled with Reos Partners-led convenings and coaching to deliver broad impact.

In parallel to evaluating the impact of the Roadmap on EA, Reos Partners will also be examining how this delivery model may be applied to other social, environmental, and economic challenges.

Early Impact

While results are still coming in from the Emergency Aid Lab, preliminary data suggests that the program is producing strong outcomes.

Feedback on the lab’s effectiveness

93% of participants in the lab report that they took action or changed their behavior as a result of participating in the lab.

94% of participants report seeing changes on their campus or in the larger EA system. On average, they believe that 79% of these changes were a result of the lab.

Early EA data from several of the primary institutions in the lab

EA recipients at Austin Community College (ACC) are returning, semester to semester, at a higher rate than non-recipients. ACC has experienced a three-fold return on investment from tuition.

97% of students who utilized EA at Florida International University stayed enrolled or graduated in that semester, or the next semester.

90% of 2017-2018 EA recipients at the University of Washington enrolled in the following quarter or graduated during the school year. 78% of students responded either “no” or “not sure” when asked if they would have been able to continue their enrollment without EA.

Culture shifts

Participants report not only progress on EA, but also increased collaboration and experimentation on campus that is advancing progress on institutional priorities.

We have made great progress because we are collectively committed. It is not solely about the need – that always existed. The difference is that we are working together to leverage change. We are applying this approach to EA now, but I can see that it will be transformative for addressing many issues on our campus for years to come.

Kristian Wiles
Retention and Academic Support, University of Washington-Seattle

One benefit [of the lab process] is that we’re getting increased engagement because people from across the college are meeting in a lot of cases for the first time and finding a synergy together.”

Mark Butland, Faculty, Austin Community College

College is more important than ever to future success

It is estimated that by 2025 two-thirds of all jobs will require education beyond high school. The United States is on track to face a shortfall of 11 million skilled workers to fill these jobs. College degrees are more important than ever to the next generation’s success. Reos Partners is committed to doing its part to ensure students get the opportunities they deserve by advancing EA on campuses through the U.S.

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