A Pressing Need: Student Emergency Fund Supports Students Facing Adversity

Emergency Fund Gives Students Relief in Times of Adversity

After the first cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus, COVID-19, appeared in Michigan, college life changed for every student at MSU. The university moved all courses to virtual instruction and asked students to return to their permanent homes, unless they had a need to stay on campus.

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The change has thrown the certainties of daily life into question for many students and their families. Businesses have closed and jobs have been lost. Opportunities to earn money on campus have changed. Even the technology needed to complete coursework has moved from labs and classrooms to students' homes. 

Spartans work hard to earn their college degree, relying on a combination of student loans, savings and part-time jobs to afford higher education. When adversity strikes, they may not have the resources to weather the storm.

Enter the ComArtSci Student Emergency Fund.

The goal of the Student Emergency Fund is to answer a desperate need for students in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. Relying primarily upon referrals, the fund provides students with small sums of money to overcome unexpected obstacles – obstacles that could be the only barrier to getting a degree.

“Students often encounter barriers to succeeding academically — this could take the form of a textbook they can’t afford, a computer program, an iClicker or even food insecurity,” said Kari Schueller Lopez, Director of Academic and Student Affairs.

She said a number of students struggle with unforeseen needs at some point in their college career, whether that means food insecurity, financial insecurity or even homelessness. When students are not sure where their next meal will come from, it can be difficult for them to spend money on the textbooks and technology that is required in their courses.

“Everything in the fund goes to directly benefit students,” said Lopez.

“The Academic and Student Affairs Office is a safe space for students to share their stories and struggles,” said Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education Ann Hoffman. “This fund will allow our staff to make an impact on resolving some of their issues so that they can refocus on what is important...being a Spartan who succeeds.”

The Student Emergency Fund will be used to help students with unexpected needs and small fees that impact their ability to focus on being a student. The fund is administered by the Office of Academic and Student Affairs, where faculty and staff work together to determine how to best support students in need.

“This really started with this idea of a Lending Library,” said Lopez. “Students could borrow a textbook if they couldn’t afford to buy one, and return it at the end of the course, so that another student could use the textbook.”

After ComArtSci found a way to expand access to textbooks, student advisors and mentors noticed that other course requirements could be cost prohibitive, too. Because course projects are so creative at ComArtSci, students are required to have access to the Adobe Creative Suite for many courses. Students also learn to produce high-resolution video and interactive media, which means they need access to technology that can support complex software. As an example, one subscription to a creative software package can run about $30 per month.

Lopez said the situations she encounters in her office vary with each student. If paying one month of a software subscription means that a student can afford to eat for a week, then that can be taken into consideration. Other needs that could be supported include software expenses, the cost of food, or the money it takes to release a hold on a student’s financial account.

“MSU is a land grant institution and it’s all about access, but once students are here, we want to provide them a way to handle the stress of the unexpected,” said Lopez.

By Melissa Priebe