In 2017, Minnesota State University, Mankato, introduced the MavCares Student Emergency Fund, which provides $1,000 in emergency financial support or $1,500 in emergency scholarship/continuation grant support for which students could apply when they experienced unexpected hardships, crises, or emergencies. As the grant funding expired, University Advancement and the MSU Mankato Foundation collaborated with Admissions, the President’s Office, and Campus Dining (Sodexo) to develop a more robust program to provide not only financial support, but also free resources for food, mental health counseling, and retention and continuation scholarships for students facing a variety of challenges to successful college completion. The program equalizes access and affordability by removing barriers that the most economically vulnerable students face, allowing them to focus on their academic success.
Support was sought from partners spanning most every facet of campus: Admissions; the MNSU Foundation Board; University Advancement; the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Division; Student Affairs; the President’s Office; the University Fundraising Work Group; and Campus Dining. The collaborative work of these groups came to be known as the “architecture of care.” In addition to traditional grants and monetary gifts, donations from faculty and staff, crowdfunding projects, assistance from alumni and foundation volunteers, and partnerships with local businesses and nonprofit organizations culminated to provide myriad benefits to students in need.
The ultimate goal of this program is to earn a reputation and develop a brand as an institution of caring. MNSU offers the most robust student emergency needs infrastructure in the Minnesota State University System and serves as a model to all 35 system institutions. With enrollment remaining steady over the last five years, the school is an outlier in the state of Minnesota, where enrollment is down among most institutions of higher education in recent years. It is believed that this is in no small part due to the reputation that the university has earned as one that not only wants to enroll low-income, first-generation, and ethnically and culturally diverse student populations, but one that will provide the resources to retain those students when they encounter financial emergencies.
Since the introduction of the program, students who receive these grants are retained at an 87% rate—significantly higher than the overall student retention rate on campus. More than $1 million in private and institutional aid and in-kind support has been distributed to students in need. Minnesota State Mankato has seen continued retention success among student beneficiaries of these resources and a continued increase in retention, in particular, among students who received at least $1,000 in cash support from these funds from 2019 through 2022.
The most important element to success in this endeavor was developing architecture of care—a broad base of cross-divisional and cross-departmental support combined with presidential endorsement. The large number of individuals and departments committed to the success of this program was vital to ensuring its stewardship and growth. Another key commitment is that of private donors, local businesses and nonprofits, and foundation and alumni board volunteers. Their ability to assist the university in making connections to and leveraging support from private industry and donors was invaluable to the program’s success.
As a student, just knowing there’s a balance due, it’s hard to focus. The scholarship changes everything because I don’t have to worry about this semester. It was just in time, but it was perfect.”
Ashlie Polanco Medina, recipient of a $1,500 scholarship grant as part of the MavCares program in 2020