Financial assistance program aids UA students in times of need


A roof over your head. Food on your plate. A vehicle that runs. These are things most students don’t have to worry about. But when it does occur, it can feel like the sky is falling, and not all students have a support system to turn to. Fortunately, the Student Emergency Financial Assistance (SEFA) program at The University of Akron is available to help students in their time of need.

The SEFA program, supported by the Ascendium Education Group’s Dash Emergency Grant, allows the University, though its ZipAssist Office, to provide one-time emergency grant monies (non-tuition assistance) to students in time of need. Since receiving the grant, the University has assisted 331 students with the distribution of nearly $272,000 of critical aid since August 2017. Those funds, combined with an additional $30,000 in textbook support from the Salvation Army of Summit County and approximately $3,000 from the Families Helping Families grant, which is supported by UA staff and faculty and the community, add up to more than $300,000 in “emergency aid” that helped to retain students since its launch.

“It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” said a University of Akron (UA) student who – struggling to afford groceries, tuition and rent – received a timely phone call from ZipAssist, the University’s hub for student resources and support.” — UA student

SEFA grants are most commonly used by students for car repairs to ensure they can get to campus or work, for groceries, or for rent assistance. And it is making a big difference in the lives of its recipients. Ninety-eight percent of students who received aid from UA’s SEFA program in fall 2017 either graduated or re-enrolled for the spring 2018 semester, as compared with 93 percent of students across the 31 other four-year universities awarded the 2017-2019 Dash Emergency Grant, according to Kirstin Yeado, Ascendium program officer of education philanthropy.

This video was produced during fall semester by students in a socia media class taught by Julie A. Cajigas, associate professor of practice and coordinator of the Professional Social Media Certificate in the School of Communication.

While Asendium also offers emergency grant monies to other universities, the SEFA program at UA was recently praised by the company for its exemplary success in promoting the retention and graduation of low-income students who experience unexpected financial emergencies. 

In a letter to Dr. John Green, interim president of UA; Dr. John Messina, vice president for student affairs; and Kimberly Cole, vice president of development, Yaedo commended the “outstanding work” of UA’s ZipAssist team in implementing the program and complimented UA on being an institution that is shifting institutional processes and implementing best practices that support student success. She also cited the ZipAssist team as having “… a student-centered approach that recognizes the resilience and strength of individual students, as well as a process that quickly connects students to the resources needed for success.”

“I had been out of work for six weeks with less than half of pay to maintain my bills,” said one student. “… [I] received a godsend email from ZipAssist, and the young lady was so helpful and followed up with me consistently. She understood it was hard for me to take time off of work and went out of her way to meet me on a Saturday. … She made sure I understood the program and how it could benefit me in the future. I was given gift cards that day for groceries.” — UA student

The program’s success in improving retention is due to the relationships formed between staff and students, said Alison Doehring, director of ZipAssist.

“Aside from providing much-needed emergency assistance – including utilities expenses, car repairs and even helping students put food on their tables – a pivotal part of the SEFA program is the ongoing support provided to a student referred to our office,” Doehring said. “In some ways, our staff develop mentor-like relationships and extend their first appointment to multiple check-ins and subsequent support meetings. Ultimately, this has aided us in retaining students.”

“I panicked when the lights on my dashboard started flashing,” said another aid recipient. “It was the dead of winter, and I was commuting from Copley when my car started to really give me trouble. … I met with the coordinator [of SEFA], and all I had to do was get a quote for the repairs … and my car was in the shop the next day.” — UA student

In addition to supporting eligible students through SEFA, ZipAssist also partners with the United Way of Summit County, The Salvation Army of Summit County and Rubber City Arches LLC to provide a range of services and resources such as financial counseling, discounted child care, prepackaged meal distribution, textbook assistance and more. ZipAssist also directs students to other opportunities for assistance, including the Family Helping Family grant, which is supported by UA staff and faculty and the community.

Information about ZipAssist, including referral forms for SEFA and its other programs, can be found online at ZipAssist.

Media contact: Cristine Boyd, 330-972-6476 or cboyd