Improving student retention through need-based scholarships

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Improving student retention through need-based scholarships

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EAB Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellow, currently serving as the Faculty Senate President and Associate Professor at Kansas State University, who completed a capstone project on retention grants.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

How can you effectively retain students who face financial barriers to enroll in courses?

Kansas State University has experienced decreased state appropriations, resulting in an increased reliance on student tuition revenue. With decreased enrollment, it is critical to retain our current students. Low-income and working students, who are more likely to be students of color and first-generation students, are less likely to have the ability to pay the tuition and fees required, decreasing their likelihood of persisting to graduation. By providing financial assistance to low-income students, Kansas State University can work to close the achievement gap, prevent low-income students from stopping out of college, and boost retention and graduation rates.

I utilized EAB resources, including EAB’s white paper Incentivizing Behavioral Change with Aid Dollars, to learn more about need-based scholarship options as a possible solution. I was also paired with a capstone buddy, Ben Brandon from Georgia State University, whose institution has had incredible success with their Panther Retention Grants. He offered insight into their program and how they have been able to increase student retention and have a positive return on investment for the university.

In Fall 2020 I served on a team at Kansas State University that piloted a bridge grant program, offering funding to students who had unpaid balances that were restricting them from enrolling in the Spring 2021 semester. Overall, this pilot program was successful, resulting in high retention rates, particularly among seniors, retaining 94.8% of seniors who had between 90 and 120 earned credit hours.

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Using the resources from EAB and the data from the pilot program, I recommend a two-pronged long-term solution for Kansas State University. First because of the success with retaining seniors, I propose beginning with a completion grant program focused on seniors within two semesters of graduation. Once this is established and the effectiveness evaluated, I recommend moving forward with the second step, offering a retention grant program for underclassmen. I recommend using a multi-step process, beginning by using Navigate to send text alerts to students with unpaid balances. I then recommend pulling a list of students who continue to have unpaid balances who meet the grant program criteria and working with advisors to learn more about student need and progress toward graduation. After grants are awarded, it will be critical to evaluate the effectiveness of the program in terms of student retention, graduation rates, and return on investment for the university.

By implementing retention grants, Kansas State University will reduce barriers for student persistence, retention, and graduation, resulting in increased graduation rates. This will enable us to meet the needs of students, close the achievement gap, and have a positive return on investment for the university.

See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects

Amy Capolupo and others participated in the Spring 2021 EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship

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