A new financial-aid approach that offers extra aid to low-income students with strong GPAs is showing promise at Seattle University.
Seattle University is in its third year of a novel financial-aid experiment that is showing promise at helping low-income students stay in school.
The program, which was cited in a recent study by the education consulting firm EAB, offers $1,000 in incentive pay to low-income students who earn a strong GPA in their first quarter at the school. And students who keep those grades high continue to receive the extra money in subsequent years.
“It’s a new way to look at aid,” said Josh Krawczyk, director of university retention initiatives at Seattle University.
The Challenge Grants, as they are called, focus on students who are low-income and did not receive much, if any, merit aid — the aid given to students with top high-school grades and SAT scores.
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These students are at a higher risk of dropping out of Seattle University, where the combined cost of tuition, fees and living expenses is about $50,000 a year.
When they first arrive on campus, these students get a letter that connects them to resources that can help academically, such as the university’s learning-assistance programs, Krawczyk said.
And they also learn about the incentive bonus, in which the university offers them the $1,000 in extra grant money in their first year if they earn a 3.0 GPA their first quarter.
It may not sound like a lot of money, but “it’s a way to say to students, ‘Way to go,’ ” Krawczyk said.
Students who have a cumulative 3.0 GPA for the remainder of their first year will earn the $1,000 boost in their aid package for the rest of their college years. That’s also unique, because colleges typically don’t adjust the size of an aid package after a student has been admitted, he said.
Krawczyk said about 90 students last year were eligible for challenge grants, and 60 earned it. “It’s a big win for us,” he said.
Many of these students are the first in their family to go to college, and the cost of attending a four-year school — including the cost of living in Seattle — can come as a shock to their families, Krawczyk said.
He said the program was so successful during its first two years — when students had to earn a 3.25 GPA to receive the grant — that the GPA was dropped to 3.0 this year, to include more students. It also now covers transfer students, he said.