58: Micro-Grants as Stop-Out Prevention at University of North Carolina at Charlotte w/ Tina McEntire

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Tina McEntire, Associate Provost at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, discusses how their Gold Rush micro-grant program keeps students from stopping out late in their program for financial reasons, and how 95% of micro-grant recipients at UNC-Charlotte have either successfully graduated or are on track to do so.

The most shocking thing for us, I think, was that when we looked at their loan debt, their average loan debt was actually higher at the time of stop out then what our graduate average loan debt was. So they had accumulated more debt more quickly than our students who are graduating. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect ETU podcast network. I'm a Eric Olson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with Tina McIntyre, associate provost at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Tina, welcome to the show. Thank you. Glad to be here. Really excited to talk with you today about micro grants and their potential effectiveness at preventing financially motivated stopouts and dropouts. But before we dig into that, Tina, can you give the listeners a little bit better understanding of both UNC Charlotte and your rule there. So UNC Charlotte as a University of Twenty nine thousand students. We are known as North Chihn's urban research institutions. We have undergraduate to it, graduate and doctoral programs. We have strong focus and stem engineering, business the sciences, and we certainly serve our region and a national population. My role at UNC Charlotte as the associate provos of enrollment management is to lead the eight enrollment related departments, but also work on campus wide issues that affect or prohibit enrollment and progression towards degree, and so I really focus on the total student life...

...cycle and trying to make sure that we certainly bring in the right students through the admissions office that reports to me, but also be able to help students afford a four year education through financial aid and be able to actually ultimately graduate. Awesome, Tina, when you see stopouts and dropouts late in a student's academic career, when they're in their last year, we even their last semester. What is your research found is primarily causing those stops at UN see Charlotte? So we conducted are stopout research study last year and it really what's prompted by when I'm reviewing our aid eligibility over four years, really looking at some seniors who were losing their aid eligibility or some of their aid eligibility about their senior year. As we all know that pal you only have twelve semesters of Pale. We have a lot of transfer students that are in tuition. We bring in over forty three hundred transfers per year. So we bring in a large number of transfer stions per year. A lot of them have used some of their aid eligibility at other institutions and so we saw that by their senior year they were losing some aid eligibility and so what that prompted was some stop out research looking at who our stop out students are, how many we have and why they're stopping out. So we did a study and looked. We have twenty fourzero undergraduates at the university and what we found is that we were losing on average, and we looked about a six term average, six hundred and seventy academically eligible students stop out for one or more terms every single semester. Six hundred seventy students. So obviously that concerned us and we looked at those students who had earned sixty earned credit hours. So they're halfway home. They're all, you know, they're halfway through to the finish line of a of a degree. And you know what we found is they weren't students who were performing poorly academically. Sixty three percent home had a GPA above a two, two point five. Thirty two percent of them had GPA over a.

So it wasn't academic difficulty that was making them stop out. So when we surveyed this population, what we found and what their feedback was to us, is that seventy four percent cent of them indicated that financial concerns was the motivator for stopping out. Fifty seven percent said they need to enter the workforce and work more hours or to afford college. The most shocking thing for us, I think, was that at when we looked at their loan debt, their average loan debt was actually higher at the time of stop out then what our graduate average loan debt was. So they had accumulated more debt more quickly than ourgrest students who are graduating. And so really we knew then that we had to do something to intervene. And in two thousand and sixteen the Association that Publican Land Grant University's sent a request for proposals for completion grant programs and when I saw that I saw I'm a gosh, that's the answer. Is really looking at how can we help these students who are so close to the finish line cross that finish line and in a micro grant, because we did see a lot of these students who didn't who had. Some had significant unmet need and some had little met need, but there were still unmet need there after their financial aid was awarded, and so we applied and were received a fiftyzero dollar grant to develop a completion grant program through a Plu. So in August two thousand and sixteen we launched our completion grant program we really focus on students who are very close to graduations. So we look at students who have a hundred and five hours are greater. So they are in their senior year. They should be able to graduate. The GPA requirement to be eligible for our grants to or better. We didn't want to put an academic requirement on it that was too stringent. You know, if you're performing at a two better than you're eligible to graduate. We looked at students who had, you know, unmet need and, because of money restrictions, they had to be North...

Jahn a residents. And so we are awarding one one five hundred dollar grants, and that's a micro grant, to students who meet the eligibility criteria. And we're really looking at and we've been doing this for two years. So we started in August two thousand and sixteen and we've awarded five hundred forty four grants. So we're really proud of the pergament's called the Gold Rush Grant Program it is our completion grant program another unique facet of our program is that we knew part of the APLU requirement was that students have to have some skin in the game. So they had to have they had to do something in order to get the grant and show that they were invested in their future too, and so what we looked at is future building activities. So we know that these students are seniors, we know that they are close to graduation, so we began to look at what could they do to help them towards graduation and then after their career, afterwards. So our future building activities, students have to complete two future building activities and they are things like go to the career center and complete a resume workshop and have your resume approved through the career center. Another option is to complete some financial literacy modules on how to start paying back your loans, how to create a budget, some information about establishing credit. We knew all these types of things would help students in the future after they graduate, and so we were really trying to help the student, although that they they're showing they have skin in the game. We've chosen activities we think that will really help them in the future. You've spoken to some of the qualification requirements for those who are able to access these gold rush completion grants. Are there limitations as to what these grant funds can be used for? There really aren't limitations and what they can be used for. So so what we do each semester is, after we award the grant, we actually survey the student who received the grant at the end of the semester to content,...

...to get their feedback, one on the future building activities, but to is what did they do with the grant? How did the grant help them? And we have seen students who said I was finally I was able to buy my books this semester with this money. I wasn't able to buy books last semester. We had feedback from another student who said this is the first semester I've worked less than thirty hours. This grant help me pay for my utilities. And so it is a grant that really some students will use towards their tuition, other students will use to buy their books and then other students will use it to help feed their families. So it is a grant without restricts and Z own how students use it. You mentioned you've been able to give out over five hundred of these gold rush microgrant completion grants so far. What is the response from student spend thus far and how successful have these microgrants been in getting at risk students to continue on tractward graduation? So what we have done is, as you know, there's always more need than funds, and so what we've been able to do is we have a control group of students who met the eligibility requirements for the gold rush grant, but we didn't have enough money, and so they didn't receive the grant. So we have two groups, the group, the treatment group, of students who receive the grant and the group of students who did not receive the grant, and we've tracked both students and what we found is that the students who receive the grant end up taking more hours each semester and they are progressing faster towards graduation. And so we know that our students are able to take more hours and that they are graduating at a faster rate, and so we're very happy about that. I think having the control group that we also follow and use has been highly successful for us to be able to really track and know what we're looking at. The overall graduation rate is currently twenty four points higher for the gold rush grant recipients over our control group of eligible students not selected for the grant. And so, and course, you know, we it's only we've only awarded...

...five and for you four grants, so we're early into this grant program but so far those results, you know, are standing. So we're very happy about that. The other things that we the feedback that we are receiving, I think, has been the most surprising for us is that when we survey these students, when we're surprised at how many actually give us feed back, which is great. But two is how many of them have actually thanked us for the future building activities. We've had so much feedback from our students that says I should have gone to the Creersen or earlier. I had been before, so glad that you made me go. Another one said I wish I'd taken these financial literacy modules about how to establish a budget from the very beginning of since I was a freshman. So finding out how helpful the and we've actually tweaked them. We had some like career testing in the beginning that we use as a future building activity, and that feedback came back not as helpful, and so we've added in some other career options and so we've tweaked our program based on students feedback. The other feedback that we've received is a a lot of feedb about thank you for this honors, thank you for believing in me. So we were, you know, a little shocked that students, you know, not only saw this as money they needed, but also that somebody believed in them, that they were surprised and honored that someone believed that they could cross the finish line, and so it sends to be an extra boost and motivation, motivator for them to continue their studies and that we believe in them and we know they can cross the finish line, so that it seems like that kind of grant award came at the right time in their career to motivate them to finish, and so that's been a joy for us to read. Is that kind of feedback, just you know, someone believed in me. Thank you for believing in me. missionally, the results of this program make could feel like a no brainer so far. What about economically? This feels like a very low cost opportunity. You mentioned these grants are are...

...roughly fifte hundred and these students you mentioned are are now completing at twenty four percent higher than your holdout group. Talk about the economic benefits of four fifteen hundred dollars getting that tuition revenue for the rest of their program so I think the economic benefit for us, obviously, is to have more students graduate. And but I can tell you that the difficulty when we first began our grant program it's identifying the money because, Apou, we are awarded a Fiftyzero grant to create a program but none of that money could be used towards actually giving the grants, and so we had to identify financial aid money that was need based, funds that we could use towards this program and so we had a couple of funds and then I created something called the Evergreen Fund, where you and CE CHARLOTTE, the forty hours, our colors are green, and really tried to reach out to alumni and donors and they evergreen fun is a fund that's unrestricted scholarship money to help students either graduate or enter the university, and we use some of those funds towards our Gold Rush Grant Program so finding the money probably was the most difficult part because, you know, we don't there's not a lot of unrestricted funds. We needed to make sure that we weren't taking need money, that was need based away from another group, that we were using this this money in a very strategic way and good steward of donor funds and a good stored of, you know, need base dollars. And so finding the money was something that I'm sure all university struggle with. We have been fortunate and that because our goal rush grant program has been a success. I have worked with our advancement office to really talk to them about that, because I think it's a great donor story. What donor wouldn't want to give, you know, a fifteen hundred dollar grant to help us student across the finish line who's already proven themselves by already earning a lot of credit that...

Gott into their senior year? So it's a great donor story and so I've worked with our advancement office and recently, justice past spring, the UNC Charlotte Foundation, our foundation has route, has approved a one million dollar match program and so bill match dollar for dollar for any donor who wants to give money to the Gold Rush Grant Program and so that will really set us up for future funding so that one will be able to award more grants but also continue this grant program year after year. Tina, that's incredible news and that is a great story indeed. Finally, any next steps? Advice for listeners considering a similar microgrant strategy for preventing stopouts at their institution? I think my number one advice is to have a control group because without our control group, one is that you can't talk about the full need because you know what we've looked at. We've not just, you know, selected our students, we've looked at what is you know, if we had the money, what would it? How many students could we meet their need? And so being able to say that to your advancement, your donors, is here's what the full need looks like. Help US get there to meet more student need. I think too is being able to track your results and so how many students are actually looking at the number of credit hours they're they're taking? Has that increased with a with a completion grant, looking at graduation? Having a control group to compare that to a students who meet that same criteria is important. So that's that's kind of the research side is you've got to have the data to do the comparison. I think also is is publicized that widely. I think that there are some completion grant programs where the fighting to wait office really manages it. It's not talked about broadly on campus and we've made it a point to talk about it broadly, not only on our campus but in the UNC system. You know, we're part of a seventeen or sixteen university system and and we've talked to President Spellings about this program and she's mentioned it in some of...

...her speeches. So it's it's important to communicate broadly what we're doing to help students cross the finish line, and I think this is we have such a good story to tell because it's not like we're bringing in students from the beginning and we're not sure, they haven't proven whether or not they can be successful. We're really taken in a group of students who've invested their money and their lives and themselves into their education. They've been successful and we're just helping them get to that last little bit. Tina, thanks so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you? They have any follow up questions, what stress can reach me at my email address. That Tina Tia Dot McIntyre, MacIntyre's MC intire at UNCC DOT Edu. Awesome. Thanks against so much for joining us today, Tina. Thank you so much. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies, helix educations, data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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