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Retention Grants Key To Closing Gaps At UW-M

Episode 116

August 16, 2022 40 minutes


Joel Spiess, Director of Student Scholarships at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, joins EAB’s Meacie Fairfax to discuss UW-M’s success in using retention grants to eliminate a 16-percentage point retention gap between students of color and White students this past spring.

The two discuss what the UW-M team learned from analyzing finance-related attrition at the university and share advice on how other institutions might establish and fund similar grant programs to help students with minor outstanding balances stay in school and earn their degree.



0:00:11.7 S1: Hello, and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Today, you’ll hear how University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s new retention grant program close the equity gaps for their students this past spring, just one of the practices they are implementing through their Moon Shot for Equity work. Joel Spiess, Director of Student Scholarships, joins us to share how data analysis and knowledge of our students help seeking behaviors and unmet needs, built the case for the grants and ultimately shape the creation of their program and contributed to its success. He’ll also discuss the collaboration needed across teams to assure ongoing funding, support, and success. Thanks for listening and enjoy.


0:01:04.7 MF: Hello, and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. I’m excited to have on the line on aligned with us today, Joel Spiess, Director of Student Scholarships from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Joel, thanks for joining us today.

0:01:16.9 Joel Spiess: Thanks, Meacie, happy to be here.

0:01:19.4 MF: Well, let me share for the listeners on the line that Joel was part of a team of folks at UW-M who are working to create a more inclusive and equitable campus through their involvement in the Moon Shot for Equity program. Now, the purpose of this work is to boost graduation rates for all students and to completely eliminate equity gaps so that all students regardless of race, ethnicity, social economic status, or family education achievement, achieve success. Now, today we’re going to talk about a specific facet of this work, the use of retention grants to help students who are struggling financially to pay off small fines or outstanding balances owed to the university, so that these students can stay in school and graduate. Now, Joel’s gonna share some thoughts and lessons about their new program, from fundraising, to making the case, to designing the program and reforming policies to support the work, as well as evaluating outcomes. So, with all that being said, we’re gonna start at the beginning. Joel, the first question for you I have is, what were your top concerns or those of others when you were starting… Getting ready to launch this program?

0:02:33.9 JS: Sure, thanks Meacie, when our campus was on the outset of this work, we were wondering how we could most positively impact a large group of students, there’s lots of students that have need, there’s lots of different ways to impact the student experience with financial support, and so ultimately, with the stakeholders that came together, we started to focus mostly on students that we suspected might not raise their hand to ask for help. So students who wouldn’t otherwise be advocating for themselves, wanting to be able to help that population and catching the students who think that they just can’t graduate because they don’t have funding, “I made it X far, I can’t pay off this balance, so I guess I just won’t finish college,” that seems like a problem we wanted to focus on and a problem we wanted to solve. So we brought together a group of faculty and staff from a variety of campus units to look at the issue as holistically as possible to try and kind of unpack that student experience in this space, and that’s really how we started to get at that issue of how do we do the best job possible with the resources that we have available? And I think at the same time, we were wanting to make sure that we were measuring outcomes, measuring a variety of factors to make sure that the steps we were taking were working in the way that we were hoping them to.

0:04:01.5 MF: Yeah, and one of the things that you said there just really resonated, that the reality is, is that so many of these students who actually need the support won’t raise their hand, and I think that is a very component that doesn’t get said a lot, and I know we’re gonna go in a little bit more about kind of the ways that you’ve set up this program to make sure that those are supported, but one of the biggest questions that we get across A-B and the conversations that we’re having with partners is quite frankly about the funding of the program, right? So are there any funds, how did you fund your program, are there any funds that are off limits, how are you making sure that you can replenish the funds that you have, right, year over year? I’d love to hear what, the work that you’ve done over there.

0:04:44.0 JS: Yeah, and I’ll say even with our regional partners, funding seems to be one of the things that we talk about the most… [laughter]

0:04:49.6 MF: Yes.

0:04:50.7 JS: In terms of sustainability. So we are very lucky on our campus that central campus leadership allocated institutional funds to support these efforts. So a lot of collaboration between our CFO and our business and financial services unit, alongside enrollment management and student success working closely together, and so our campus leaders set aside 250k for this first year of sort of implementation for us to pilot some things, and that number was somewhat based on some of the initial lists of students we ran and balances that we were able to uncover, that’s sort of where we got to the number that we got to. We certainly have had conversations about philanthropic funding, our philanthropic dollars primarily go to support student scholarships, and then on our campus, why we chose not to use the philanthropic dollars for the retention completion grants was, at the start of the pandemic, our chancellor led a big campaign to establish the Chancellor’s Student Success Fund, which is really dedicated to emergency grants, students that have a sudden urgent need because their car broke down and they can no longer get to campus, or they had a fire in their apartment or x, y or z reason. And so knowing that we really have funding in place for those pieces from donors, the campus decided to use institutional dollars to support the retention grant piece.

0:06:24.5 MF: And I wondered if you could offer a little bit more for our listeners, you’ve given a ton already, but in the idea of institutional funds, ’cause we’ve heard from others that this isn’t necessarily where folks say they can pull from, or maybe it’s where they want to pull from. So I was just wondering, any advice or thoughts you have for folks in terms of thinking when they’re thinking about these institutional funds or maybe conversations they might need to have.

0:06:50.8 JS: Yeah, I had a conversation with a colleague at a nearby institution, and they were explaining that their CFO said, “No, we can’t use institutional funds for this purpose,” and my suggestion to them was, ask a follow-up question, “Is it that we can’t or that we don’t want to, [chuckle] or that we have other competing priorities?” Because I think sometimes people hear that and think there’s perhaps federal regulation or other state rules or things of that nature, but it might just be that the campus is unwilling to for a variety of reasons, and I think being able to help paint that picture of, “If we do set aside institutional funds for this purpose, here are the impacts that it may have on head count, on graduation rate, on that tuition revenue, etcetera,” if we’re able to keep this group of students moving forward and progressing towards degree, which is really what we’re here for and all about. Of course, we’ve gotta make the bottom dollar work and we’ve gotta make ends meet, but I think being able to paint some of that picture with the data that you have available is one of the ways to try and influence campus leaders into considering institutional funds or even a marriage of institutional funds and philanthropic funds, it could be a match of 50-50 type situation.

0:08:11.5 MF: That’s super helpful because I think at the end of the day, from what you said, arming yourself with a little bit of data or even a lot of data in terms of getting that larger sense of what that return could possibly be, putting that money in your, students put the money back in your institution in many ways.

0:08:30.9 JS: Right, absolutely.

0:08:33.1 MF: The one thing I wanted to move, when we started talking about the financial needs, well, we started not too long ago, talking about the financial needs, who these students are, the ways they come… Ways that we should talk about or even think about setting up these programs, before the completion grant was launched, what did your campus largely know about the financial needs of your students, who were they? What were their circumstances? What continue to be their circumstances even right, over the past two years right now, that might change going forward.

0:09:00.4 JS: Sure, yeah, so we know in our campus that average unmet need for our undergraduate population is roughly between $8000 and $9000 annually.

0:09:10.5 MF: Wow.

0:09:12.2 JS: So a sizable portion of unmet need, about a third of our undergraduate population is Pell Grant eligible, and we know that within that mix of students, there’s a disproportionate size of students that are historically under-represented in college, that make up students that are Pell Grant eligible, for example. And so those are some of the things that we knew about our population going in, and I think anecdotally our experience with students on our campus historically, is that many students don’t realize they even have an outstanding balance until it’s time to register for classes for the next term. And so when they go to do so and see, “Oh, I have this balance that’s preventing my registration,” some students are able to resolve that quickly, identify a source of funds, pay it off and move forward. But we know that there’s others that don’t know that they have a balance or maybe they do know that they have a balance, but they’re unable to pay it at the time that they should in order to be able to register for courses in a timely fashion.

0:10:21.6 JS: So many of our students we know are working throughout the summer to pay down their balance, and once they’ve finally gotten it low enough, then they’re registering for courses in late August or in some cases even early September after the semester has begun. So lots of variety, but also consistency in student behavior when it comes to understanding balance and understanding its impact on their ability to progress.

0:10:48.8 MF: ‘Cause one of the things I think was really interesting in some of the research I’ve read around this is that, they’ve spoken about talking to students about their financial expectations, or even just about the way that they plan and prepare to pay for college, and I’m curious in terms of how… If there’s things that even just largely that your team thinks about or that was brought into the conversation about what that looks like for students so that they’re not shocked. Also, they’re not this whole, “But I wasn’t prepared to make that payment, or to even think about putting that into my monthly expenses, or anything of that sort.”

0:11:29.6 JS: Right. Or even just making the assumption that my financial aid will cover it, like…

0:11:34.7 MF: That’s right.

0:11:35.3 JS: What do you mean I have a balance? This is how I thought college worked, right? Yeah, in our office, the office of student scholarships, we often, when students receive a larger award, we’re often trying to counsel them, especially if it’s a one-time award, you’re gonna get a nice refund check from this, set it aside for the future, put it into a bank account that stays separate from whatever money you’re spending on a monthly, weekly basis, but certainly helping students think about that total cost of education from the get-go, which is part of the admissions process and the yield process as students are making their selections, and even through First Year Success courses, Bridge courses, even orientation, helping students understand, here’s when you’re gonna receive your tuition statement, here’s when financial aid will flow to your account, here’s what refund checks look like, and what we recommend you do with that.

0:12:32.6 JS: And those types of things. So yeah, I definitely think financial literacy and helping students understand the bigger picture is a big part of the equation. I often say to colleagues now, I wanna go back to my undergraduate records and find my financial aid statements, because I think I’m finally at a point in my life where I could understand completely like what was I agreeing to. [laughter] And what was happening to my account, ’cause a lot of that is just… It’s really lost on 18-year-olds.

0:13:03.4 MF: Absolutely it is. And I can say just even personally, my worst experience at college was with the financial aid office when I was waiting to figure out what was going on when I was gonna get payments, and I think there’s a lot of what’s happening with our students trying to figure that out and understand it. And in a such a way where they probably even haven’t had this those conversation, of those skills prior. What other the things you’ve mentioned, I think was really interesting though, controversial in some ways, and I think it’s more about the naming of it when people are talking about financial literacy or just also just even just financial planning or just support or skill building, but I was curious if we could talk a bit more about the… Just all the knowledge that you shared about what you know about your students, maybe many… Some of their hesitancy, or residency, hesitancy, to get into debt. Or to take on too much debt. How did that influence and all that knowledge that you have influence the grant criteria or the creation of this grant.

0:14:04.0 JS: Yeah. Sure, I think it goes back to our thoughts about students who might not be as willing to raise their hand or come forward, and our suspicion and somewhat affirmed knowledge from students that if they see an outstanding balance, they may just give up, they may just assume there are no more resources and not advocate for themselves or even come forward and ask, “Are there opportunities for resources?” So that definitely influenced our approach to the criteria and to distribution of funds. One of the things, our retention grants advisory group that’s made up of faculty and staff, we just met last week, and one of the pieces that we’ve talked about is… And we’ll get into the criteria here, I’m sure in a moment. But should we be lowering balances to the point where students can register or should we be eliminating balances altogether because lowering a balance so that we lift the registration hold while helpful, they’re still a $1,499 in our case, a balance sitting there, so the student sees that and then knows they’re gonna get charged 5 or $6000 for next semester’s tuition, and so a student can quickly see like, “Okay, I can register, but I can’t pay down the remaining balance, and I’m about to then get charged for a whole another semester’s worth.”

0:15:28.8 JS: And so recognizing some of the hesitancy around that piece and how that impacts students willingness to register and move forward. I think our lofty preconception was when we pay down a student’s balance so that they can register, they will immediately do so. That was our really strong belief heading into this.

0:15:53.0 MF: For sure. But they’re like, I’m free. [laughter] I think it was part of it when you’re like, Oh my gosh. Yeah.

0:15:58.8 JS: Yeah, yeah. And so it’s one of the things that we’re looking at now is understanding trends, especially over summer, and if we issue a retention grant in May, and there’s a good portion of students that aren’t registered still by the end of July. Of those students in July that still aren’t registered, how many of them will register before the start of the term versus how many just won’t register overall and understanding those pieces, so it can be a moving target.

0:16:25.1 MF: Well, and it sounds like it… ‘Cause I wonder at the end of the day, have you decided one’s better than the other, or are you doing a combination of paying it all off or leaving enough border register, where have found… Or is that still kind of an ongoing discussion?

0:16:42.8 JS: It’s definitely an ongoing discussion, our practice, we’ve done three rounds now, three semesters of retention grants, our practice has been to lower the balance just below the registration hold threshold, and so that’s sort of where our group is looking as a potential next step, is if we eliminate the balance, do we get faster action from students or a higher participation rate, higher retention graduation rate, if that balance is eliminated as opposed to simply lower to just below $1500, which is our whole threshold.

0:17:19.6 MF: Well, let’s… Because I’m sure folks listening are curious, let’s hear a little bit about the grant criteria and how you agreed to those terms, what does that look like for your campus?

0:17:29.7 JS: Sure, so we, as I mentioned, brought together a group of faculty and staff from a variety of areas, we have faculty from economics and math, and staff from institutional research, scholarships team, financial aid team, student success center, academic advisors, student affairs professionals, student support services, all sort of around… All areas of campus to try and get this holistic look, so we have a lot of collaboration primarily between institutional research and financial aid based on the initial parameters that were set forth by the advisory group, so we pull a list of names of eligible students, and then look at their balances and try to understand, “Okay, if we zero in on these criteria, what does that look like for the group?” So did you want me to describe the criteria now?

0:18:21.2 MF: Yeah, if you don’t mind, just for our folks, ’cause I know it can be different, and some folks may say they have retention grant program versus the completion grant program, so even just the delineation in terms of what you call your program as well.

0:18:31.0 JS: Yeah. We call it a retention grant, arguably it is a completion grant.

0:18:38.5 MF: Sure, sure. [chuckle]

0:18:38.6 JS: So we’re focused on undergraduate students enrolled in the current term for full-time enrolment. Seeking their first degree, cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher so in good academic standing that are 90 credits or higher if they’re a bachelor’s degree-seeking student. Or 30 credits or higher, if they’re an associate’s degree-seeking student. They also have to be not expecting their degree in the current term, so not graduating in the current term. So those are our primary criteria and we’re… We pull that initial list of students that reach or that satisfy those criteria, and then we pull their balances and look at students that have that balance of $1500 or more which is what prevents registration on our campus. That’s the registration hold. So there was a lot of negotiating of criteria ultimately wanting to be able to, again get to that group of students that we thought we could have the biggest impact with. While also recognizing the funding that had been set aside. So there were some broader criteria to start that we then said, “Okay, well, if we say You can’t just be degree-seeking, you have to be first degree-seeking or you can’t just be enrolled, you have to be enrolled full-time. How does that reduce the number of students on the list. And how does that reduce the number of balances that we would need to impact.”

0:20:05.6 MF: Well, and I’m also curious too, ’cause then even when you’re talking about what type of status that they have, what then does that start to look like demographically or across income level and others in terms of who’s actually able to participate. Was that part of… Even before you made a decision of say, “Let’s look at the data and see what it’s kinda showing us, if we may be taking out groups we are actually seeking to help.”

0:20:35.4 JS: Yeah, it was a part of the initial roll out of the process, and our institutional research team did a great job helping us break down the population to understand a variety of characteristics. Whether it comes to his ethnicity or as you mentioned, income level, et cetera. And in our case, the breakdown helped affirm that we were going in the right direction. We were zeroing in on the students that we wanted to have positive outcomes for. So in that way, it was very helpful for us. But it was a very iterative process to say, “Okay, here’s our dollars. Here’s the number of students we think we can impact. This is the criteria that we’ve set.” Before we hit go and we do a little bit of analysis to your point of student populations that we’re actually going to impact to make sure we’re on the right track and as I mentioned for us, we were.

0:21:31.6 MF: That’s fantastic ’cause one of the things I always have and a lot of our partners have in the back of their mind is. There’s been a lot said that usually the students with the lowest need may not have the highest need? And so are you as part of this work… Do your students need to or have had to exhaust it and had to apply for aid? Is that part of the requirements?

0:21:56.6 JS: It is not necessarily part of the requirements. So there does not have to be outstanding need. They do not have to have filed a FAFSA. It is something that we looked at and have looked at all three cycles that we’ve completed so far to understand if there’s a student on our list that meets our criteria, and the financial aid office is waiting on some outstanding paperwork from that student. Then that might be a student we set aside and pull off of the list. But in some cases, we will look just to have an understanding of… If we have 100 and something students on the list, how many of them have exhausted all aid, or how many of them have never filed a FAFSA, for example. And different pieces along those lines, just to understand it. But by and large, it’s students that have filed a FAFSA that have received support, but just haven’t received support to cover the cost of attendance.

0:22:52.5 MF: Alright then. That’s fantastic. And I think that just points to that individually, contextually, each university really needs to make those decisions for themselves, knowing and doing that data analysis that you talked about. So this comes back to the larger framework where folks are thinking about, “We have all this aid and we have this retention grant, we have this emergency aid. You talked about the… ” I think it was the emergency grant fund that the chancellor set up or… I’m probably… Okay. [chuckle]

0:23:21.7 JS: Yeah. You’re right.

0:23:26.6 MF: I don’t think I got that right. Okay. I was thinking now as we speak. I was trying to figure out where and how does this retention completion grant fit into that larger aid framework. And how are you thinking about it?

0:23:33.7 JS: Sure, yeah, it’s certainly one of our institutional aid programs, and we view the retention grants, these completion grants as really a just in time strategy to try and drive enrollment. Drive student completion, continuation, and success. We are advocating constantly for additional resources that are needed for our students on a grand scale, given the significant amount of unmet need that we know our students have and our program population. So we know there’s always need for these students. But our strategy for their retention grants in particular is really as a just-in-time approach, to make sure that if we have students that are choosing not to move forward or maybe are not choosing, but are being prevented from moving forward because of a relatively small balance, that there’s something that we can do about that. And I didn’t mention this, but in the criteria that we’re looking at, students with a balance above $1500. We also then cap that at $6000. They can’t have a balance above $6000, so that the largest award a single student would get would be $4500 essentially. So students that have a balance well beyond the $6000 are excluded because those are generally students in a different situation than a one-time in order to move forward for one semester this is what I need. So that’s an important part of our criteria as well.

0:25:06.9 MF: And just thinking of… Oops. Just thinking about how the just in time and then even the one-time grant. So I’m thinking about the larger landscape of how this plays in. Would students who… ’cause you mentioned earlier the average, and that need is about $8,000 -$9000. A third of your students are Pell eligible. Could they at multiple times and they may need it. Multiple times across their journey, across their experience, across the campus get different types of aid. Is that part of where we kinda have that support?

0:25:43.9 JS: Yeah. Yeah.

0:25:44.6 MF: Okay.

0:25:44.7 JS: Absolutely, we have a lot of cross communication between financial aid, student scholarships, our Dean of Students office, and even sometimes our academic partners, who come forward and say, “I have a student in a situation. What can we do to help them?” So the short answer is yes, I will even say for the first time for our retention grants, we looked at students who were on our list for a second semester in a row. That had just received at the preceding semester. And our advisory group for the retention grants. You know really have to think hard about if you receive it once, should you be eligible to receive it again. Does the dollar amount you received previously or the dollar amount you need this time factor into that equation and ultimately what our group decided was, since our criteria is really geared towards completion. The 90 credits or above senior standing essentially. The decision was if funds are still available, we will work through students that need our retention grant for a second time. So we processed all of the students on the list who were first time recipients and then looked at the remaining part of funds and said, “Okay, let’s start working through those students that would need it for a second time to see how many students we can impact out of that group.”

0:27:06.8 MF: That makes sense. And one of the things you talked about just even was talking about the organization and the coordination between your offices, what did that… Setting this up. This new program up. What was that amount of coordination and was it easy? Was it hard? Was it difficult? And I know there can be personalities and different folks, who are working across offices. I’d just love to get your take in terms of how it went.

0:27:33.4 JS: Yeah, I think UW-M has done a variety of different approaches to retention grants over the years. I think Moon Shot as an initiative has helped us focus our efforts. So I think there was already on campus a general understanding about how we can positively impact students in this way, and so Moon Shot really helped us to focus. So tapping the appropriate partners to come to the table was relatively easy in our case, because we could explain what we were setting out to do and why their role was important. Our advisory group meets essentially at this point every two months, just to kinda check in about outcomes from the previous round planning for the future round changes we wanna make in communication to students. And everybody plays a different role obviously. Institutional research is bringing lists of students and data and outcomes, and our Student Success Center is really driving the student communication piece. Our financial aid partners are looking at the technical components of how are we getting the money to flow to the student and when. And how does that potentially interact with other support the student might be receiving. And so our Dean of Students office will cross-check our list of retention grant recipients with their emergency grant recipients to make sure that we’re not both issuing something to a student in the same week that lines up with a giant refund going to the student, for example right?

0:28:58.8 MF: Right.

0:29:00.1 JS: And so as the person that stepped into the sort of leader of this group and the coordinator, my job is to make sure the wheels keep turning. [laughter] I’m often on a one-on-one connection with each of those units and then they’re all represented on our bi-monthly meetings for general updates and feedback about the process and things we can change, and what’s worked really well for us is sort of a living document for the current cycle of, “Here’s what we’re doing right now.” And then a copied version of, “Here’s what we’re doing next time.” [chuckle] Which is where we’re reflecting our changes. We know we’re gonna notify students in this way instead next time or we’re gonna change the timing to this point in the semester, so that we always sort of have a game plan that we’re referencing and sort of checking our progress against.

0:29:53.9 MF: I love that. And you started to go into it. Let’s hear about it. How did they do the disbursement of the aid. You said you have three cycles of it, and I would love to hear each time what the learnings were and what you saw as successes and things to kind of reiterate or re-focus on.

0:30:10.2 JS: Yeah, I think first off, out of the gate, what we realized is timing of issuing the award to the student was really important. So our first cycle, we issued the grants at the start of enrollment appointments for the coming term. So students are scheduled essentially in waves, essentially as seniors, juniors down the line, which is a four-week process and then open enrollment begins. So our first cycle, we awarded the grants before anyone started enrolling. And what we sort of realized is instead of doing that approach, because we know some students will realize at the last second, “Oh, I have a hold, I just didn’t pay, I need help to pay it.” We shifted our approach our timing now is we issue the awards at the start of open enrollment.

0:30:55.6 JS: So after all the student appointments have passed, so that was a shift for us, because then it allows those students that have the means to pay, but maybe just didn’t realize to sort of self-select out of our pool without even knowing that we exist. [laughter] Our outcomes have been really, really positive. So our fall 2021 administration. Our retention graduation rate for students that received a grant was 87%, which was 10.5…

0:31:29.1 MF: Wow!

0:31:30.8 JS: In our control group. So I mentioned we pull the list and based on available funding, we’ll work through as many students as we can. That becomes the test group, and then those students that we weren’t able to award became our control group. So it provides some really nice comparison points for us, we also eliminated the achievement gap for targeted students, who represent the…

0:31:51.4 MF: Can we pause there for a moment? ’cause I feel like that’s like a moment to clap. [laughter]

0:31:58.1 JS: Yeah it was a great outcome for us and something we were really happy to see. It goes back to your question of at the outset, did we think we were getting at the students we wanted to be helping and not accidentally setting some populations aside. So that was a really positive outcome, and even for our most recent administration in spring. We’re still waiting on our final outcomes ’cause students obviously are still enrolling for the start of fall term. But with where we’re at in terms of those that have enrolled or that have graduated. We’re seeing the same outcome, that the achievement gap is eliminated based on funds going to the students through retention grants. So it’s a really wonderful outcome, and it’s been one that we’ve been able to show to campus leadership to advocate for more funding. Look at what we were able to do here as…

0:32:51.0 MF: Absolutely.

0:32:53.2 JS: An institution that’s committed to access and getting students not only to college, but through college. This is one of the significant strategies that are at play to help students do that. And so most recently this summer, I put together a synopsis of if we were able to award every student in the fall semester that qualified, and every student in the spring semester that qualified, this is what it would have cost us. And we were able to share that upwards with campus leadership to have that funding be increased for this coming academic year which is great.

0:33:26.3 MF: That’s fantastic. That’s so, such such good things to hear because as we started up this podcast, it was really about a conversation about folks largely looking at these larger gaps and the retention completion, but there’s really so much about the student experience. And the student’s experience with the financial aid component and the payment component is such a big piece.

0:33:54.0 JS: Right.

0:33:54.3 MF: You’ve said so much and so many good things are gonna be taken from this podcast, from our listeners. But I would love to get to the point and just say, what are the top three pieces of advice you would offer to institutional leaders and honestly folks in the scholarship office. The folks that are across multiple campuses who are all wanting to do this and support this work in some way. What would you say for those who are struggling with how to structure or fund or even think about bringing in a program similar in some kind to yours?

0:34:19.6 JS: Sure, yeah, one thing I wanted to be sure to mention is we also then offer financial support to students in the way of just being able to meet with a financial aid advisor or to engage around some more financial literacy, like we were talking about, or just understanding finances. Every cycle we’ve had so far, we’ve had a student respond and say, “Thank you,” and ask, “Will this money be available for me next semester?” So we have students that we know, know that this is going to continue to be a challenge, even if they’re still two semesters away. And so, particularly some of our faculty have led some initiatives to provide support in that way, so I wanted to be sure to mention that piece.

0:35:00.6 MF: Well, and I’m glad that you said that piece because even at the top, when you said about some students who will not reach out or have these conversations. And now you’re seeing this engagement and them coming back and wanting to have conversations. And that is a win in and of itself as well.

0:35:14.3 JS: Right, and helping students understand, there are options through your institution and through the government, but sometimes when you’re one semester away from graduation and you’re out of funds, there are options outside of your institution as well. If it’s just for one semester and it’s for a specific dollar amount, and it gets you to graduation. It’s worth talking to somebody about. So…

0:35:37.1 MF: That’s right.

0:35:37.7 JS: Let us have that conversation, right? Yeah. To jump back to your point about the top three things I’d recommend, I think number one, what served us really well on our campus is engaging multiple stakeholders from a variety of units helps increase campus buy-in among faculty and staff, all of the folks that are working in those separate spaces that participate in our advisory group, we’re also hearing from students in different spaces and hearing feedback about what that was like to receive it, or whether it was confusing or straightforward. It really just helps you consider so many angles, and even one of the folks on our team is from our virtual Hernandez Center supporting Latinx students, and he is often able to share with us based on his one-on-one conversations with students. Just things the group hadn’t considered.

0:36:31.3 JS: So really strongly recommend stakeholder engagement across campus. I also think a positive for us has been, we haven’t been shy to revise our criteria following each disbursement cycle. We go in with a plan, we look at our list, we look at our numbers, and “Okay, let’s see what happens,” and then we see the outcomes and we see the breakdown of who persisted and was retained or graduated, and who didn’t engage in and isn’t enrolled. And then based on that information, we made some changes, and so don’t be afraid to modify the criteria. Obviously you don’t wanna start from scratch each time. [chuckle] But turning the screwdriver just a little bit in a different direction to see what kind of impact that has on students, I think has benefited us. And I think finally, from the outset, we’ve talked about it several times in this conversation, having a system for tracking assessment and outcomes of not only the forecast of what you think you’re going to accomplish, but then what you have accomplished, and having a central space, which is really sort of in my role as a coordinator of this of, “Okay, how many dollars did we go out with? How many individual students?”

0:37:48.7 JS: How many students were awarded, how many students were in our control group, and then tracking what the retention and graduation rates are, what that achieving gap is or is not in our case. If you’re able to move the needle on those pieces. It not only affirms your work but it makes that ability to make the ask to campus leaders not much more easier when you just have positive outcomes to show.

0:38:17.6 MF: Well, thank you so much, so that’s all fantastic advice, and our hope is and our push is that more institutions will use these types of retention grant programs with the same focus and attention that your team has. Because we all know that this is… Financial needs is one of the biggest barriers for many of our students or historically underserved students. And so, there’s a big difference in terms of the support and the level of support we continue to provide to our students who are many or dangerously close to dropping out are so close to their realization of their dreams and their aspirations, quite frankly, of getting that degree. So I know we only scratched the surface on this topic, but thank you so much for all the time that you shared with us. And I do just wanna say thank you, for everyone who’s on the line with us today for joining office hours, I hope you come back again to hear more updates. Congratulations again with the work that you’ve done and closing the lamination gap for the students. And Joel, please feel free to take us off and say a quick goodbye to our listeners.

0:39:22.2 JS: Wonderful. Thank you, Meacie. It was a great chance to chat about the work that we’re doing, and a shout out to our advisory group here at UW-M, who’ve really made this come alive on our campus. We are so grateful for their work and so grateful for the EAB and their guidance as well. So thank you.

0:39:43.4 MF: Alright, thank you.


0:39:45.8 MF: Thank you for listening. Please join us next week, our guest will examine ways that schools are using predictive modeling to improve strategic planning around enrollment, fundraising and other critical areas. Until then, thank you for your time.


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