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Ohio State given $210,000 in grant funds for student financial emergencies

Cash-strapped Ohio State students burdened with sudden expenses will soon have a rainy day fund available to help them out.

New to OSU, the Dash Emergency Grant Program is designed to provide one-time relief for students on tight budgets when something unplanned and costly occurs, such as a sudden illness or a car breaking down. The program is overseen and primarily funded by Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates, which provided OSU with $210,000 to be used across the next two years, beginning Autumn Semester.

The Madison, Wisconsin-based nonprofit which assists students with college funding and loan repayment has also provided 2017-18 academic year grant funds to seven other Ohio universities including Xavier and Ohio Wesleyan.

“The purpose of the grant is to help students from low-income families who face unexpected financial emergencies that might cause them to drop out of college,” said Amy Kerwin, vice president of community investments for Great Lakes. “This grant will allow colleges to address that financial emergency, allow the student to stay enrolled and complete their degree.”

Approval of a Dash Grant application will result in a payment — up to $1,000 — being made not to the student, but directly to whomever the student owes money to.

For the purpose of the grant, a student is considered low-income if his or her expected family contribution — a figure determined by Federal Student Aid upon completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA — is less than $7,000 per school year.

A low-income student facing such a situation will be able to apply in-person or online through OSU’s Student Advocacy Center and can expect a timely response.

“We will turn (applications) around very quickly, within a couple of days to either fulfill or let the student know the status,” said Dave Isaacs, an OSU spokesman for the Office of Student Life, the office which oversees the Student Advocacy Center.

The ability to respond quickly to grant requests — specifically, to review applications within 48 hours and then to disburse payment within another 48 hours — was one of the main criteria Kerwin said Great Lakes considered when deciding which schools to enroll in the program.

“Our view is that these are emergencies and that colleges can’t take a week to 10 days to figure out, ‘Are we going to award the grant or not?,’” Kerwin said.

She said the application review team at each school has been trained by Great Lakes and is encouraged to ask the student follow-up questions to best determine the source of the financial need.

“For example, a student might make a request for rent money,” Kerwin said. “Rent is not an eligible expense because, of course, it’s foreseen.”

However, she said through talking to the student, the review board may discover that the student had to pay for an unforeseen event, such as a car repair a few weeks prior.

“And in that case, rent isn’t the emergency or the unforeseen expense,” she said. “It was really the car trouble, and that would turn that application from ineligible to eligible.”

She also said Great Lakes looked for schools it felt would do a good job of making students aware of the program and which had already demonstrated an ability to offer support for students.

Additionally, universities provided with funds through the program are required to contribute funds of their own — 10 percent of the amount given by Great Lakes the first year, and 15 percent the second year. Ohio State’s contribution will be $10,000 for the 2017-18 academic year and $15,000 for 2018-19, Isaacs said.

Ohio State is among 32 four-year colleges awarded money for the grant. The program has existed since 2012 for two-year schools, but has not been offered to four-year schools until now.

“In looking at how the program worked for the two-year schools, we made a decision that this was something we would like to be able to implement here at Ohio State,” Isaacs said. “If these grants can help ensure that a student doesn’t have to make that choice (between paying an unexpected bill and staying in school) … we view that as a great success, as does Great Lakes.”

Previously, OSU students facing a financial emergency could apply for aid from the Margaret Herlan Busch Student Assistance Fund, Isaacs said, noting that the aid amounts were much smaller.

“We’re excited for this grant because it allows us to have a bigger impact,” he said.

Correction, 6/22: An earlier version of this story stated the maximum grant payment would be $1,500. It will, in fact, be $1,000.

Update, 6/22, 12:14 p.m.: This story has been updated to include the contribution amounts made by OSU to the grant fund each of the two years.

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