About Emergency Aid

To successfully grow emergency aid at any institution — and to strengthen the community of practice around urgent support for students facing an unexpected financial crisis — institutions need a common language for key concepts. Consistent messaging and a shared understanding of key concepts about emergency aid will help grow and strengthen the field. This consistency and common language will also help inform policymakers, donors, institution and community stakeholders, and students about the benefits of emergency aid and the ways it can contribute to student success. As the conversation is ongoing, this collection of key terms and fundamental questions will grow to reflect the current state of the emergency aid community as it evolves.

Key Terms


The refers to students who may lack reliable access to basic needs as defined by Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. This also includes critical needs such as medical support and transportation.


These vouchers help students purchase books, food, or other essentials directly from the institution bookstore, dining hall, transportation services, etc. This does not include financial aid book vouchers.


This refers to students achieving their intended academic milestone, whether it’s completing a term, meeting the requirements for a transfer, or graduating and obtaining a certificate or degree.


These programs cover outstanding balances for students who would otherwise be unable to graduate or register.


Tuition and living expenses (everyday expenses such as food, housing, transportation) taken in total is known as the Cost of Attendance, or the total cost of enrollment for an academic year.


These are short-term loans that address hardship related to the timing of a student’s financial aid disbursement.


This is the measure of the financial strength of a student’s family. It is based on a formula established by law and factors in the family’s size, taxed and untaxed income, assets, benefits, and the number of members who will attend a higher education institution during the year.


When a student is unable to consistently access affordable and nutritious food.


These pantries increase access to food on campus in response to concerns of food insecurity among students.


This type of temporary funding can provide aid to students before their financial aid package arrives at the institution and is intended for students facing specific financial hardship that threaten their enrollment status.


When a student is unable to consistently access a safe, secure and stable place to live.


This concept represents an intervention by an institution’s financial aid administrator to make decisions about and adjustments to the data elements on a student's FAFSA or to override a student's dependency status. While the institution can’t change the need analysis formula itself or make direct adjustments to the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), citing professional judgement, an aid officer can change the inputs to the EFC formula.


These grants are provided to students who experience unexpected hardship and typically require that students meet certain academic or other requirements.


This refers to students continuing to be enrolled and attend courses each term and graduate upon completing requirements, or transferring to another institution and continuing progress towards completion.


These grants are provided to students who experience unexpected hardship and are typically awarded without restrictions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What resources are available to my institution to help keep our emergency aid program in compliance with federal student aid laws and regulations?

The financial aid office says the student has no remaining eligibility for emergency aid under federal rules. How can we help this student?

Is there any type of emergency assistance that doesn’t have to be counted as part of the student’s total financial aid award?

Can federal student aid be awarded as emergency aid?

How do students apply for emergency aid?

What financial aid rules must be considered when awarding emergency aid?

Can aid be administered by another office so it doesn’t have to count against a student's other aid eligibility?

What is the difference between emergency aid and other forms of financial aid?

Does the type of emergency aid (grant, loan, non-cash assistance like a food bank) impact the treatment as financial aid?

Can emergency aid be awarded to students during periods of non-enrollment, like scheduled breaks between terms, or summer?

What types of documentation do students need to provide when applying for financial aid?

Is there a minimum amount of emergency aid that can be awarded so it doesn’t count against a student’s other aid eligibility?

What is the difference between emergency aid and a financial aid appeal?

Can emergency aid be used to cover past-due balances owed to the institution?

What privacy laws must our school follow if emergency aid is administered by committee?

  • The Higher Education Act (HEA), specifically, sections 483(a)(3)(E) and 485B(d)(2)
  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
  • The Privacy Act

What is emergency aid?

Can you recommend any best practices for colleges or universities to work toward with emergency financial aid?

What constitutes an emergency?

What types of programs are colleges and universities offering?

What is financial literacy?

How do schools set up flexible aid structures so that the funding is available to help?

How common is it for colleges and universities to develop emergency aid programs and policies to assist students?

Where can I learn more about how institutions can share private student data between offices on campus?

Can a student’s income be shared with IR, or an office analyzing the efficacy of emergency aid?