New student aid fund aims to help students stay in college

March 11, 2024 About Us
Manchester Community College Graduation 2023.

Kristen Butterfield-Ferrell doesn’t always know how the stories end. Many times, a student who frequents her office just stops showing up one day or doesn’t come back for a new semester.

A week, two weeks, a month go by, and eventually she concludes she won’t be seeing them again. Often – too often – she knows why. A car accident. A health issue. Even something as small as a phone bill. For so many students, college is a leap of faith – or at least a tightrope walk to the more stable life their degree will offer.

“Many students are living where, if one thing goes wrong, it impacts everything,” said Butterfield-Ferrell, a student support counselor at Manchester Community College.

In her role, Butterfield-Ferrell is skilled at connecting students with resources on campus or providing a warm hand-off to a community agency. But the need is sometimes greater than the available assistance.

She now has a new tool at her disposal. An emergency grant program created by a partnership between The Foundation for New Hampshire Community Colleges and Granite Edvance will provide NH community college students with short-term financial support for non-academic emergency needs. Established through an initial gift of $80,000 from Granite Edvance, the fund is designed to help more students finish their degrees.

“No matter how hard they work, no matter how carefully they plan, some students are going to face financial obstacles that threaten their ability to complete their schooling,” said Granite Edvance CEO and President Christiana Thornton. “It’s heartbreaking to think that something like a car repair bill could stand in the way of a student receiving their diploma and going on to accomplish great things in their community.”

The fund grew out of an anonymous donation of $30,000 that inspired Granite Edvance to kick in another $50,000, seeing an opportunity to impact NH college students in a meaningful way. It will be administered on each of the seven community college campuses by people like Butterfield-Ferrell, who work closely with students and are in touch with their needs.

“This is really going to impact people in such a positive way,” she said. “It gives me hope to be able to offer a solution for people.”

Recent research finds that “basic needs funding” significantly impacts students’ likelihood of persisting in their studies. According to a two-part report published in 2022 and 2023 by the Center for Higher Education Policy and Practice, students who received emergency grant funding during the pandemic were between 8.6 and 15.5 percent more likely to remain enrolled than their peers.

Persistence matters for personal reasons as well as more practical ones, Butterfield-Ferrell said. “Our hope is that people leave here in a better situation than when they came in. … Getting the degree also keeps people from having taken out debt and then not having something to show for it,” she said. “The sense of accomplishment is really important, too.”

For community college students, who are often juggling full-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities, staying on track with their studies can be especially challenging – and small expenses can loom larger. Getting a little bit of support with a doctor’s bill or grocery bill really can make a difference, said Kristen-Butterfield, who, along with the unfinished stories,  witnesses many happy endings.

“It’s that little bit that’s going to help the person not lose their car or not lose their home,” she said. “It makes a difference.”

Photo information: Courtesy photo. Manchester Community College graduation 2023.

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