New fund to assist low income students with expenses

by Isha Marathe / Beacon Correspondent • September 14, 2017

Emerson College created the Student Assistance Fund as a reserve for eligible students who might need help covering subsidiary costs of education, said Director of Retention and Student Success Chris Daly. 

The new fund uses money donated by faculty and staff. It is for students who have made it into college and managed to cover schooling costs with or without financial aid, but are struggling with unforeseen incidental costs, she said. 

“We are not talking about tuition, or room and board, or things that would show up on the Emerson bill,” Daly said. “We are talking about books, film equipment, external hard drives, the costs of printing and copying, or personal items like a coat. These things really add up.”

Until now, there hasn’t been a means by which Emerson could help these students, Daly said.

“We hear all the time in Office of Student Success, in Financial Aid and from teachers, how students are here but can’t meet their full participation due to these charges,” Daly said. 

The application is open to students as of last week on the Office of Student Success website. 

“It’s small amounts, ranging from 10 bucks to a few hundred dollars per student per term,” Daly said. “Staff and faculty can give directly, and a hundred percent of the money goes to the students.” 

While anyone can donate to the fund, the target is faculty and staff as of now, Daly saod.

“So many of us [staff] want to be able to help students, but it isn’t really proper to whip out our wallet and hand students 50 bucks,” Daly said. 

The Office of Student Success also collaborates with the Office of Financial Aid, using documents submitted during the financial aid application process to determine legitimacy of need. 

Sophomore comedic arts major Maya Mordecai discussed her concerns regarding the correlation of availability to the Student Assistance Fund and the Office of Financial Aid.

“I don’t qualify for financial aid, but I come from a one income household, so money is definitely an issue. It’s not just me, but many students who are in the same position. So, would we qualify for this fund? Because there’s a lot going on that isn’t always visible to the college,” she said.

While the office does not yet have hard and fast economic criteria for eligibility for an award, Daly said applicants are interviewed to understand their circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

“...On paper it might look like a student’s parents make a lot of money, but in reality, the parents might not have a lot to do with them,” Vice President of Enrollment Ruthanne Madsen said.

The money granted by the Student Assistance Fund is available immediately, she said. 

“With this particular fund, we are not handing students checks or cash...” Daly said. “We will go online and buy whatever is necessary for the student using the award issued to them.” 

The campaign for donations started in May. Close to $12,000 in pledges have been raised for the year with help of extra funds deposited by the Office of Financial Aid as well, Daly said.

“We have a budget of about $9,000 this semester,” Daly said.

Emerson plans to repeat the fundraising process to replenish the fund for the spring semester, Daly said.

Students who want to benefit from the Student Assistance Fund can sign up online on their website, call their phone number 617-824-8650 or come into the office of Student Success located on the second floor of Piano Row to meet with the five-member team.

Another measure by Emerson’s Office of Student Success to help students cover non-tuition costs is its food pantry initiative. The storeroom stocked by donations of nonperishable items such as canned foods, soups, pastas, granola bars, and cereal is located on the second floor of Piano Row.

The food pantry opened last week, Daly said. While the facility is not a full-functioning food bank, Daly said it is a means to fill in the gaps. 

Daly began discussing the idea for the fund with the Vice President of Institutional Advancement Ronald Korvas, along with Madsen in the summer of 2016, she said.

“A staff member can sign up so over the course of two weeks $5 or $10 will be deducted from their paycheck,” Daly said. “It’s really about lots of small gifts that make a big difference in the long run.”

The only way to get faculty involved is by informing them that an initiative impacts students directly, Madsen said.

Sophomore visual and media arts major Raz Moayed said she is impressed by Emerson’s efforts.

“We can pick faults in it [Student Assistance Fund and Food Pantry],” Moayed said. “But it is something I think we should acknowledge, that Emerson as a community is trying to figure out the faults in the system and then going about fixing them.”

Correction:

This article previously stated that the Student Assistance Fund team had 14 members. It has only five.