An MSU student ascends stairs at the front of the Old Main Academic Center. Many university students nearing the end of their degree programs are receiving completion grants this semester to help fill financial gaps after other financial aid and scholarships have been applied.

STARKVILLE—Mississippi State is helping students who are weighing tough financial decisions about college completion tip the scales in their favor during the pandemic.

The university is providing more than $1.26 million in completion grants to under-resourced students who are approaching graduation but may need more funds to get the few credit hours needed to earn their diploma.

“These are given in the last year of a student’s degree program to help them get over the finish line,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Regina Hyatt. “We don’t want to see any of our students forced to drop out of school when they are this close to accomplishing their goal, and these completion grants can be critical for students facing real financial strain.”

She explained that the importance of students reaching the graduation milestone was further emphasized by a longitudinal study beginning in 2009 and conducted by MSU’s National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center. NSPARC’s findings revealed that MSU students who drop out near graduation will earn $1,049,700 less over the course of their lifetime than those who graduate.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, MSU has received two sources of funding to help these undergraduate students in need.

A five-year, $200,000 commitment from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation, matched by an additional $200,000 from the university, supports college retention and degree completion. Hyatt said these funds allowed for 68 student completion grants this semester and will continue to fund approximately the same number of grants each semester over the next three years.

“The need to support students and to improve the rates of college completion among Mississippians has always existed. But in light of COVID, the need has never been greater or more pressing,” said Woodward Hines Education Foundation President and CEO Jim McHale.

The university also is receiving $861,637.50 from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund program for additional student completion grants.

John Daniels, financial literacy coordinator in MSU’s Office of Financial Aid, said the combined WHEF and GEER funds allowed the university to award 85% of all eligible students this spring with one-time, $1,000 grants based on the following selection criteria:

  • Eligible for the Federal Pell Grant according to the current year FAFSA;
  • A resident of the state of Mississippi;
  • Full-time undergraduate student;
  • Have an unmet financial need, (cost of attendance minus the expected financial contribution, any federal financial aid, scholarships, state aid, and reported outside resources);
  • Good academic standing (MSU GPA of 2.0 or greater); and
  • Within one year of graduation (75% or more of required class hours completed).

Daniels said the grant award process did not require eligible students to submit applications, but rather the university selected enrolled students who met eligibility requirements and automatically awarded those with the highest unmet financial need after other financial aid and scholarship funds had been applied.

“We find that there are many students who reach the end of their educational journey and begin to lose financial resources, such as a limited scholarship ending or running out of federal financial aid eligibility. A $1,000 grant can make the difference for a student in being able to afford textbooks for a final year or even being able to enroll for a final semester,” Daniels said. “We are pleased to be able to award these completion grants because we know they can fill a critical gap and help students move forward toward graduation.”

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