As Aaron Ford reviewed his financial aid package in 2015, he knew he was about to come up short.
He was trying to transfer to a four-year college after earning his associate’s degree close to home. But Towson University’s campus was an hour and half from his mother’s in Southeast Washington, D.C., and he didn’t have what he needed to relocate or live there full time, even after taking out loans and working multiple jobs.
“For many of us who come from D.C., the aid just doesn’t go as far because we are considered out-of-state so many places,” said Ford, now 23. It “can be just enough to derail you.”
Ford had been in touch with college counselors at KIPP, the charter network where he attended school from fifth grade until he graduated high school in 2013. Officials there had a solution: $10,423.
That’s how much Ford was allocated over two years through KIPP’s program offering emergency “microgrants” to D.C. alumni at risk of dropping out of college. On Monday, KIPP announced that program was growing to offer help to alumni from its schools in New York City, Memphis, the Bay Area, and Philadelphia — expanding a straightforward strategy to help ensure students from low-income families make it through college.
“We’re aware this isn’t going to close all the gaps, but for many of our students, who already qualify for a lot of financial aid, the actual aid isn’t always there to meet those needs to pay the bills,” said Meghan Behnke, a KIPP DC deputy director.
Some colleges offer completion grants that can help students struggling to graduate, notably Georgia State and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. But most schools offer few avenues for students facing immediate practical challenges that could derail a college career.
“KIPP has been open about the challenges their alumni are having with basic needs insecurity (food and housing challenges) and emergency aid is one of the best known approaches to addressing those issues,” Sara Goldrick-Rab, an expert on college affordability and a Temple University professor, wrote in an email. “It’s about delivering money right when a student needs it, just in time to really help.”
Each of the four KIPP regions will receive $37,000 to $40,000 to start their funds, the network said, thanks to the Ludwig Family Foundation.
The network says the microgrants to alums of its D.C. schools have averaged about $3,200 and have helped about 40 students stay on track since 2014. That includes Ford, who graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in communications and marketing and now works for an insurance company in the D.C. metro area.
“Based on what we’re seeing in D.C., we are eager to see the impact at a larger scale,” KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth wrote in a Forbes column Monday.