Providing small emergency grants to students in need can help them stay enrolled, progress towards their degrees, and graduate with lower student loan burdens. New research found that microgrants of $500-$1000 led recipients to complete their programs at faster rates while borrowing less.

The study, from researchers at Indiana University, followed over 18,000 Pell-eligible students who received microgrants between 2011 to 2018. They found that microgrant recipients graduated college at higher rates (12-16% higher) and at a faster pace (3-6 months sooner) than non-recipients with similar backgrounds and financial need.

Microgrant students also graduated with $2,500-$4,500 less in student loan debt on average. The impact was particularly strong for low-income students, first-generation collegegoers, and those from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups—groups that often struggle with affordability and graduation gaps.

“By providing even modest amounts of financial support, we were able to help move the needle on student outcomes,” said Indiana University researcher Becky S. Raskin, who co-authored the study. “Microgrants are a promising strategy for targeting resources to students with the greatest needs.”

Due to limited funding, microgrants are typically small, one-time awards. But research shows they can make a significant difference through increased retention, persistence, and timely progress towards degrees. By easing financial stress, microgrants may help students stay focused on their studies rather than worries over meeting basic needs like food, housing, and transportation.

Emerging evidence suggests microgrants could provide “big returns on small investments.” But they remain an underutilized strategy. More colleges should implement microgrant programs to support postsecondary attainment, affordability, and equity goals. Additional research is also needed on how to optimize microgrant design, delivery, and impact.

With student finances under strain, microgrants present an impactful yet feasible approach to helping more students succeed and graduate prepared to achieve their dreams. By investing in small-scale interventions, higher education can make a major difference in lives and communities. Microgrants show the power of providing just enough support to change the trajectory of success.

The research reinforces microgrants as a worthwhile strategy for higher education to consider. By making small amounts of critical aid broadly accessible, colleges can improve outcomes, promote affordability and success for all students, and build a stronger, more just system overall. Microgrants may start small but lead to big wins.


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