Georgia State’s Panther Retention Grant aims to help graduating students cover tuition and fees

The Panther Retention Grant, named after Georgia State’s mascot, helps graduating students reach their journey’s end with the aid of a few hundred dollars – and no due debt.

The grant has brought positive attention to the university from multiple news outlets and even the former administration.

In 2014, at the White House College Opportunity Day of Action, former President Barack Obama recognized Georgia State for helping more college students find a pathway to graduation.

The grant was also featured in The New York Times in an article that highlighted Kalif Robinson, Georgia State student, who was a recipient of the grant.

Panther Retention Grants are grants ranging from $100 to $1,500 which are awarded to students who are on track to graduate but unable to cover gaps in their tuition and fees. An application is not required and the grants are not awarded based on GPA.

Ariel Cochrane-Brown, retention coordinator of student success at Georgia State, said that graduation rates are up by 8 percent since the grant launched.

“We identify students who are academically on track, are close to graduation, and have unmet financial need,” Dr. Timothy Renick, vice president for enrollment management and success, said. “We award the grants automatically to students who meet the criteria; there is nothing they need to do to be awarded the funds.”

Students who receive the grant must meet with an academic advisor to continue the shortest path to degree completion and must also complete an online financial literacy training.

More than 60 percent of the grant recipients are seniors who are on track to graduate but are running out of eligibility for HOPE, the Pell Grant and loans. Often, they only need a small amount of additional funding to cover the costs of tuition and fees and to remain enrolled in school.

The grants are designed to be awarded once to any individual and are not meant to support the student throughout their academic career.

According to Cochrane-Brown, the grant was started by Georgia State President Mark Becker and his wife when they made the first $40,000 donation in 2011.

“They wanted it to be used in a way, [or] for a cause that did not already exist,” she said.

Cochrane-Brown said that after conducting research, Dr. Renick concluded that nearly 1,000 students per semester are in good academic standing and on track to graduate, but have an outstanding tuition balance of about $1,500 or less. The donated money became the seed funding for the grant.

From 2012 to 2016, Georgia State awarded over 7,300 retention grants with an average award amount of $900. The funding comes from private donors and foundations.

According to Cochrane-Brown, the grant positively affects Georgia State’s finances rather than imbalances them, because it aids in keeping students who would otherwise drop out. The university receives funding based on outcome measures such as enrollment, retention and graduation rates.

In addition, there is revenue generated from the tuition paid by students when they are retained from one year to the next.

According to a PBS Newshour article, the state of Georgia has “harsh” rules set for students who cannot pay their tuition and fees by specified deadlines. A student could be dropped from classes for failing to pay $400; but if their account total is $12,000, Georgia State loses the other $11,600.

“Georgia State is now the only public university in the nation at which Black, Hispanic, first-generation and low-income students all graduate at or above the rate to the student body overall,” Dr. Renick said. “There are no achievement gaps at Georgia State. [The Panther Retention Grant] has been critical in us accomplishing this goal.”

“In the face of hard classes and the stress of academics, it is sometimes easy to forget that we are pulling for you,” Dr. Renick said. “Panther Retention Grants are one way of showing that we — and the many donors who support the program — are on your side.”