KU Student Senate launches emergency fund to ease burden on cash-strapped peers

photo by: Associated Press

A bus passes in front of Strong Hall on Nov. 16, 2015, on the University of Kansas campus.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that keep students from finishing college. A new emergency fund set to launch this fall at the University of Kansas aims to help with the kinds of unexpected costs — car trouble, medical bills, a broken laptop — that so often prevent low-income students from completing their education.

The KU Student Senate is working to raise awareness for the grant system, called Rock Chalk Remain Fund, through the university’s in-house crowdsourcing platform, LaunchKU. Mady Womack, KU student body president, said she and Vice President Mattie Carter advocated for the fund as part of their campaign platform in last spring’s student elections.

“During the campaign, we really noticed that when it comes to keeping students at KU, oftentimes they have an outstanding balance or bill, or the amount of money they just can’t come up with is not thousands and thousands of dollars,” Womack said. “It’s often a smaller amount.”

Student emergency funds have become increasingly common on college campuses in recent years, and KU’s Student Senate drew inspiration from similar programs at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Womack, Carter and their team also looked to research published earlier this year by Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. At the 66 colleges and universities that participated in the national, first-of-its-kind survey, 36 percent of respondents said they do not get enough to eat. These students are considered “food insecure,” meaning they struggle to afford regular meals.

The study also found that 36 percent of university students are considered “housing insecure,” meaning they struggle to pay for housing and utilities. What’s more, 9 percent of university students reported having been homeless in the last year.

While smaller, more specialized emergency funds exist at KU, Womack said there’s nothing centralized like Rock Chalk Remain Fund. To that end, Student Senate is partnering with KU Endowment to consolidate unused donor funds for the new, centralized grant system, which Womack says will operate through KU’s Student Money Management Services.

Donations can also be made through LaunchKU. The project page offers several levels at which prospective donors can give — $10 could fill a student’s prescription, $25 could pay for a tank of gas, $250 could cover a plane ticket for a student flying home during a family emergency, and so on.

Rock Chalk Remain Fund won’t cover tuition, fees, health insurance or food. The grant system will provide temporary, short-term financial support to any currently enrolled student seeking assistance, however. Womack said students would also receive financial literacy training as part of the program. She hopes students will continue working with KU’s money management services beyond receiving their one-time grants, “stabilizing” their finances in the process.

“We’ve heard from multiple campus offices that there’s absolutely a need for this kind of fund, and there would be a strong benefit to centralizing these funds across the campus so it could become simpler for students,” Womack said.

Womack said she expects the award process to begin in the fall. Students interested in the Rock Chalk Remain Fund are advised to contact KU Student Money Management Services at 864-1182.