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Emergency Response

Emergency Response

When unexpected financial blows could cause a student to drop out of college, the TCC Foundation steps in


With a dream to open a shop selling pastries and other sweets, Brittany Hudson had a plan for her education at Tarrant County College. First, she studied business, earning her associate degree in 2016. Hudson planned to return to TCC for culinary arts training. After the birth of her son, though, she had a lot on her plate, and it wasn’t easy to commit to school again. Then the pandemic hit, complicating things more. But last year, the Mansfield single mom decided it was time to get back to her goal. Hudson arranged to begin culinary classes at TCC Southeast in January 2022. Then everything went wrong.

“My health went downhill,” Hudson recalls. “I had to get through those issues, and I suddenly had a lot of medical bills and no insurance.” Working only part time, Hudson got behind on payments. On top of that, she had her regular living expenses, costs related to pre-K for her son, and her tuition and fees. While Hudson’s federal financial aid was a big help, she ultimately took out another loan to make sure she was covered. The situation left her tapped out financially. Still, Hudson was determined that nothing would stop her, and she was ready to go on day one of the semester.

Then her car stopped working.

“Over the first couple of weeks of school, it was problem after problem,” Hudson says. “I had to replace a belt, spark plugs and brake pads. There was an issue with my tires. And then another warning light would come on. I didn’t have a good way to get to school. I thought I was going to have to drop my classes.”

Something Hudson discovered during her very first class would allow her to continue her studies. At the bottom of a class syllabus, there was a note about TCC’s Student Emergency Assistance Fund. That fund would provide just what Hudson needed to get her car fixed—and get to campus without a mid-route breakdown.

Crisis Intervention

Even a relatively small expense that is unexpected can become an insurmountable barrier for a college student. “Unfortunately, our low-income and first-generation students are often just one minor catastrophe away from stopping out or dropping out,” notes Fred Schmidt, former director of development for the TCC Foundation, a nonprofit organization that exists to raise and distribute funds to support students and critical needs of the College.

A recent survey showed that 54 percent of TCC students ran out of money three or more times in the prior year, and 52 percent showed signs of housing insecurity. A third of students had very low food security, and even more said they pay for their education with credit cards. If they needed $500 in cash or credit to overcome a crisis in the next month, 61 percent said they’d have trouble getting the money.

With those statistics in mind, the TCC Foundation created the emergency fund, designed to provide grants for one-time, critical needs that could cause a student to stop attending classes. The first awards were given in fall 2019, shortly before the pandemic. Students can now get up to $500 (with nothing to be repaid) to help with anything from housing problems to transportation difficulties, as Hudson experienced.

Help! cardboard sign“For a lot of people, if their car breaks down, they just call a tow truck, get it fixed,” Schmidt says. “But many students can’t easily afford to do that. And without a car, they can’t go to work, the grocery store or school. At that point, they’re truly stuck until they have the necessary funds. And if it takes, say, a couple of weeks, they might feel they miss so much class that they have to drop out. That’s where the emergency fund can help.”

Another student who received that help is Gia Peters. (Her name has been changed to protect her privacy.) Like Hudson and an increasing number of other fund recipients, it was car trouble that almost derailed Peters. “I woke up one morning to go to class and my car wouldn’t turn over,” she remembers. “I ended up needing about $2,000 in repairs. My mom helped me some, but I was still short. In days, the emergency fund had covered the rest of what I needed. It was such a relief.”

While award funds come from the TCC Foundation, the responsibility for evaluating and approving requests lies with each campus’s CARE team, a dedicated group of faculty and staff members who assist and support students in crisis. The goal is to process emergency assistance applications as rapidly as possible—ideally within a couple of days or even faster, as soon as the crisis and amount requested are verified. Depending on the situation, the College may transfer money to a student’s bank account or make a direct payment on their behalf, if an expedited response is warranted. “The plan, to help a student overcome an emergency situation and swiftly get back to their normal routine, is working,” Schmidt says.

Since the establishment of the Student Emergency Assistance Fund, the Foundation has provided the College more than $353,000 in grant funding, which has been dispersed to 745 students.

And those students have been highly committed to continuing their education. TCC’s average retention rate (which measures students who re-enroll year to year) is 63 percent. While that’s already 11 percentage points higher than the current average for community colleges, the retention rate among TCC’s emergency assistance grant recipients is significantly better—reaching nearly 81 percent.

“The grant was really easy to apply for, and I was able to still move forward and not drop my classes,” Hudson shares. “It actually gave me a push to keep going to get to my next step in life.”

The Generosity of Others

The emergency fund is maintained through the generosity of donors. Many College employees are among those who donate, throughout the year and during the TCC Employees Care campaign each October. “They see firsthand the impact this fund has on students’ ability to pursue their goals, even when life throws them a curve,” says Schmidt. “The support of our faculty and staff is instrumental in our ability to both fund awards and spread the word to students in need.”

In addition, staff in the College’s Office of Grants Development and Compliance work in partnership with the TCC Foundation to secure emergency fund donations from outside foundations. “There are many funding sources, and the applications for funds from third-party foundations are detailed and rigorous. And with the pandemic, there is more competition than ever,” says Kim Moss-Linnear, the District executive director of grants development. “Our team specializes in identifying new opportunities for funding and making sure applications for that funding meet every requirement.

“It’s a meticulous process but very rewarding,” continues Moss-Linnear, “because when it comes to the emergency fund, what we do helps ensure there are enough resources to help all students who qualify.”

Local businesses that employ TCC graduates are another key source of donations. Despite the economic stresses of the pandemic, some corporate contributions actually have increased based on the outstanding retention rate of recipients, Schmidt notes.

“Each donation has so much value,” he adds. “Every dollar goes directly to what it’s designated for, and I can really attest that every dollar matters. Whether it’s a major donation from a corporation or foundation, or an individual donation of a few dollars, it all adds up and allows us to continue this program.”

Overcoming Every Kind of Barrier

Of course, the Student Emergency Assistance Fund is just one of many ways the TCC Foundation and the College as a whole work to eliminate barriers for students. Campus-based food pantries, no-cost transportation via Trinity Metro bus and rail service, health services including free flu shots, academic tutoring and support, CARE teams that provide connections to campus and community resources—these are among the many longstanding efforts to ensure TCC students have every opportunity to succeed.

There are other programs that provide financial assistance as well; the TCC Foundation distributes more than $1.7 million in merit- and need-based scholarships each year, for example. Also, after the pandemic hit, the College began administering Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund monies as part of COVID-19 federal government acts. Tens of thousands of TCC students have received more than $120 million in those grants ($1,500 per recipient per semester) for tuition, fees and other expenses directly related to the pandemic. It’s hugely beneficial for impacted students, while also allowing the TCC Foundation to direct its available funds to students whose crises are more ordinary in nature but no less overwhelming.

“I didn’t think I’d have the money to fix my car, and there was no one else to drive me to campus,” says Peters, who received her emergency fund award earlier this year and is now completing her second semester at the College. “People who have donated their own money to help students like me—that’s the ultimate blessing. When I graduate and have a career, I’m definitely going to pay it forward.”

Visit the TCC Foundation to make a donation to the Student Emergency Assistance Fund.

Students can visit the TCC website to apply for the Student Emergency Assistance Fund.