Emergency aid programs are an essential campus resource for college students facing basic needs insecurities. However, outdated systems cause many emergency aid programs to appear archaic and challenging for students to navigate. Here are four common obstacles to applying for and receiving emergency aid and opportunities to fix them.
The accessibility of emergency aid applications is one of the most common deterrents for applicants. Most applications require in-person interviews, and Financial Aid hours of operation often conflict with class and work schedules. Long wait times are also unrealistic for applicants who may already juggle other time-sensitive responsibilities or have disabilities that make waiting for long periods of time difficult.
Opportunity: Offer online, mobile-friendly emergency aid applications with zero on-campus requirements, including interviews or wet-signature documents. Creating accessible applications will encourage more qualifying students to apply for aid as the application process is no longer an added burden.
On most emergency aid applications, it is a requirement for students to share personal information (outside of their demographic information) that displays their current circumstances and why they're requesting assistance. Not only is this line of questioning extremely invasive, but it can also be a very traumatic experience for students to recall some of their most vulnerable moments with strangers. Additionally, invasive questioning implores a bias from the interviewer as they now have to determine if the student’s response is deemed “good enough” for emergency funding.
Opportunity: Develop an application process that only requires demographic and “need-to-know” information. Allow students to maintain privacy and dignity as they express their situation without requiring them to perform their poverty or provide irrelevant personal information.
Locating information while experiencing a state of emergency can be extremely stressful and taxing on a student’s mental health. Even before the pandemic, many institutions provided students with emergency aid funding. However, the underutilized resources are often due to a lack of student awareness and not necessarily a lack of funding.
Opportunity: Develop a robust communications plan for on-campus emergency aid services. Explore digital and print marketing strategies, and partner with campus organizations to ensure messaging meets students right where they are in ways that resonate.
Due to financial aid staff shortages and long processing times, emergency aid disbursements can frequently be delayed. Disbursement delays are especially problematic as the timing of emergency funding is critical for most situations, such as students needing rent payments when faced with impending evictions.
Opportunity: Explore partnerships with third-party organizations, such as Edquity, that could handle emergency aid disbursements through multiple methods, including traditional banking and pre-paid cards.
It’s vital for universities to routinely assess their emergency aid programs for improvement opportunities. Is the application accessible and free of bias? Equitable? Are students aware that the funds are available and do not require repayment? Use the tools outlined above to redefine emergency aid programs at your institution.