Emergency Financial Aid for Community College Students

Implementation and Early Lessons from the Dreamkeepers and Angel Fund Programs

By Lande Ajose, Casey MacGregor, Leo Yan

Lumina Foundation for Education created the Dreamkeepers Emergency Financial Aid Program and the Angel Fund Program to provide emergency financial assistance to community college students who are at risk of dropping out. Both programs are three-year pilot projects administered, respectively, by Scholarship America and the American Indian College Fund. Eleven community colleges are participating in Dreamkeepers; 26 Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) are participating in Angel Fund. Each Dreamkeepers college receives $100,000 over three years; each TCU receives $10,000 over five years. The colleges are responsible for designing the programs and raising matching funds to sustain them.

MDRC will evaluate the programs over three years. This report describes early findings from interviews conducted with administrators and students (Dreamkeepers), an online survey and administrator reports (Angel Fund), and information on student aid recipients submitted by the colleges. Among the key findings:

  • The Dreamkeepers colleges have disbursed awards ranging from $12 to $2,286 to over 600 students; the average award was $293. Seventeen Angel Fund colleges have disbursed nearly 400 awards ranging from $20 to $1,500; the average award was $220.

  • For both programs, housing and transportation problems were the top reasons for students requesting aid. Students generally felt the aid helped them remain in college. Some said that the decision-making process was not transparent, and that it took too long to receive aid.

  • Eight Dreamkeepers colleges give grants; three offer loans. Aid approval processes range from casual to formal, and from immediate approval to a wait of weeks. Many programs are not advertised widely for fear that they will be overwhelmed by requests. Students usually learn about the aid from financial aid staff, but sometimes from faculty or fellow students.

  • At some Dreamkeepers colleges, there were large differences between the gender or ethnic and racial composition of the student body and that of the students who received aid. Male and Hispanic students, for example, were less likely to receive emergency assistance.

  • Colleges in both programs faced some common implementation challenges: defining what constitutes an emergency, determining how best to publicize the program, and building an efficient structure for reviewing and approving applications for aid. Some institutions, particularly the tribal colleges, needed assistance with fundraising strategies, and many colleges would benefit from enhanced programmatic support from Scholarship America or the American Indian College Fund.

MDRC will continue to evaluate the two programs through 2007. A final report will describe both programs’ evolution and the academic outcomes of Dreamkeepers aid recipients.

Ajose, Lande, Casey MacGregor, and Leo Yan. 2007. Emergency Financial Aid for Community College Students. New York: MDRC.