Hundreds of Mississippi State University undergraduates will receive an extra $1,000 from the university designed to help them make ends meet during their final year before graduation.
MSU announced its first completion grants Tuesday, given to students in financial need who have completed at least 75 percent of their credit hours and are within a year of graduation.
“Our goal had been to look at those students that were experiencing financial challenges in the last two semesters of college and wondering how we could better support those students so they could meet the goal of college graduation,” said John Daniels, financial literacy coordinator with the university’s student financial aid office. “As with COVID, we realized that oftentimes those needs were amplified. Not only were the needs amplified, but we began to find out more funding opportunities related to COVID relief and programs through the governor’s office that we wanted to participate in so that we could get these funds to the students that needed them in a timely fashion.”
The grants are funded through a four-year, $200,000 grant from Woodward Hines Educational Foundation, which is matched by $200,000 from the university, according to an MSU press release. MSU also will receive $861,637.50 in GEER (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief) funds from the state to be used this year.
Vice President for Students Affairs Regina Young Hyatt said the Woodward Hines grants are aiding 68 students this semester and will help about the same number of students each semester over the next three years. The GEER funds, which the university must spend this year, are helping closer to 750 students, she said.
“That’s a lot of students, and we’re very excited to have that number of students to be helped,” she said.
Hyatt and Daniels both said university officials were planning to start a completion grant program prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, after a university longitudinal study in 2009 showed that students who dropped out of school near graduation earn roughly $1 million less over the course of their lifetimes.
Now the pandemic has aggravated those students’ already-existing financial problems.
“I have had the privilege of talking to a number of the students that are receiving grants personally,” Daniels said. “I know that it’s not uncommon for them to have a job or two in order to make ends meet. (Since the pandemic started) a lot of jobs in certain areas especially have seen a significant decline in the number of workers they’ve been hiring, so some of the jobs that these students were leaning on to help cover things like textbooks, to finish paying tuition, they’ve found that it’s harder to find these jobs, therefore harder to finance their education.”
Hyatt said the pandemic has also resulted in students’ family members losing their jobs or students having to return home temporarily to take care of sick relatives.
“There are a lot of things that COVID has exacerbated and certainly … made our vulnerable students more vulnerable,” Hyatt said.
To be eligible for the completion grants, students must be eligible for a federal Pell Grant according to the current year FAFSA, be a full-time undergraduate student and resident of Mississippi and be in good academic standing. Daniels said in the press release that the university awarded students who met those requirements and had the “highest unmet financial need” after taking scholarships and other financial aid into account.
Both Hyatt and Daniels said they want to continue the program after the pandemic and that university officials are searching for further funding opportunities.
“For every student we get across the finish line, it makes an impact for that student, for their families and their communities,” Daniels said. “We feel really good about the possibilities that can come out of it.”
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