Professors to test effects of emergency grants

The grants are for students close to graduation who could drop out for financial reasons.

Temple researchers announced Monday that they had received an almost $4 million grant from the United States Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

The grant is part of a partnership between Temple and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, which is made up of 235 public research universities including Temple.

Researchers will use the money to study programs at seven APLU institutions that give small completion grants, which aim to prevent low-income students who are close to graduation from dropping out due to emergency financial issues. Then, the researchers will conduct a trial at 10 APLU institutions to determine how effective the completion grants are at keeping students in school.

“I know every student would think that this kind of program would help them, but we actually don’t really know that it will,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a higher education professor and a principal investigator of the study. “I’ve studied financial aid for a long time and I think this is promising, but I’m still skeptical.”

Goldrick-Rab said the study would help determine the difference between students who needed money from a completion grant that ranges anywhere between $500 and $1,500 to graduate and those who “would have graduated anyway.”

While Temple students will not be part of the study, Goldrick-Rab said the university would be able to use the results of the study to create an effective emergency financial aid program for students.

“Temple’s not going to throw money into this without knowing first if it works,” she said. “If we find out that this thing works, I’ll certainly be among the first to say to Temple, ‘This is something we should probably consider trying.’”

Shari Garmise, another principal investigator of the study, said even though the investigators believe the completion grants help increase graduation rates, the study is needed to prove their effectiveness.

“A lot of time we need research to validate that but projects, programs and approaches are not always isolated, they’re part of larger support systems to students,” she said. “This is also to dig deeper, to get a better sense of understanding of how they work and why they work.”

Doug Webber, an assistant economics professor at Temple, will analyze the data to figure out the effect of the policy on the students and universities in the study.

“If we can get a precise enough measurement of the effect science and see what conditions might have led to this effect, [it could be] implemented on a more national scale and the types of places that it worked best at can take up this policy,” Webber said.

Goldrick-Rab said the grant is part of a national effort from universities to increase the percent of students who graduate.

According to a release from the APLU, students at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis were 44 percent more likely to graduate with the help of a completion grant. It added that the graduation rate at Georgia State University was 134 percent higher for students who received a completion grant than similar students who did not receive a grant.

“I’m sure many [Temple students] are frustrated with financial aid,” Goldrick-Rab said. “The current system, in my view, is very broken and what’s good about [this study] is it means that universities are trying to do better.”

Julie Christie can be reached at or on Twitter @ChristieJules.

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