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7/16/2019 - Jackson, Miss.

Students attending college know that they are making a big investment in themselves and their futures and many students attending Mississippi Public Universities are paying their own way without relying on parents to foot the bill. Loans, grants and scholarships help with tuition, books and room and board, but there are times when unexpected expenses make it difficult to make ends meet.

Mississippi Public Universities have developed initiatives to fill the gap. These initiatives not only help students through a rough patch, they can mean the difference between a student being able to stay in school and eventually graduate or having to drop out of college. Dropping out proves to be the more expensive alternative in the long run, but it's hard to understand that when you have an immediate need that you cannot meet on your own.

Students face any number of financial emergencies, from their parents' home burning down to their car breaking down, so several of the universities have funds to help students through economic hardships that may impact their ability to stay in school.

Over the past four years, Alcorn State University students have benefited greatly from its Phase II Walk-In Scholarship assistance that provides critical funding to help bridge the gap between their financial aid award package and their full financial need. Funds are prioritized on a first-come, first-served bases according to need and scholarly merit. The program is committed toward helping students complete the registration process especially after all available financial assistance opportunities have been exhausted.

The Jackson State University Gap Emergency Fund was created to help students who face a financial gap after all financial aid and scholarship awards have been applied towards tuition. The program is also designed to provide financial support to students for emergency expenses, such as unexpected illness and accidents and economic hardships.

Mississippi University for Women recently launched the Student Emergency Fund Scholarship program, which can provide small scholarships to help students through unexpected emergencies, including but not limited to family or personal emergencies, health issues, and home and food insecurities.

The Mississippi State University Student Relief Fund, supported with private gifts, helps students affected with day-to-day crises or displaced by catastrophic disasters, such as hurricanes, flooding or other natural disasters. Fundraising for the MSU Student Relief Fund is a collaborative effort among MSU campus areas.

The Christopher C. Holman Memorial Endowment for Ole Miss Student Emergencies provides one-time financial assistance to currently enrolled students who experience an unexpected illness, death of a family member, loss of property due to natural disasters or other challenges. The financial assistance helps alleviate some of the stressors to students who may find themselves needing it the most.

Established in 2010, the Ole Miss Opportunity program guarantees that eligible Mississippi resident students will receive financial aid support to cover the average cost of tuition, residence hall housing, and an allowance for meals. This program fills the gap in funding after all federal, state, institutional, and private scholarships and grants awarded to the student have been considered.

Mississippi State University created MSU Thrive to assist students who were previously and are currently a part of the foster care system, an emancipated minor, homeless, had both parents pass away, or any combination of these issues. In addition to furnishing students with resources to help them become successful academically, Thrive works to provide these students a community in which they can be comfortable and feel at home. The Thrive community aims to alleviate nonacademic stressors that can hinder students' academic success and degree completion.

Clothing, particularly building a professional wardrobe for interviews for internships and jobs, can also be difficult for students. The Tiger Career Closet at Jackson State University, Bully's Closet at Mississippi State University, OkraSuits at Delta State University and the clothing closets at Mississippi Valley State University and Alcorn State University all help students find the perfect suit to make a great impression in a professional setting, such as an interview, networking event or conference. The items are donated to the clothing closets and are available free of charge.

The Tiger Career Closet at Jackson State University

Jackson State University’s Tiger Career Closet helps students find the perfect professional look for an interview, a conference or a networking event.

The University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State University offer a need-based textbook scholarship through Barnes and Noble.

According to Mississippi State University's Mississippi Food Insecurity Project (MFIP), which began in August 2015 to document and examine food access and food insecurity in the state of Mississippi, 14 percent of Americans were food insecure in 2014. The percentage of food insecure in Mississippi stands at 22 percent, the highest in the nation.

Last year, Alcorn State University extended its cafeteria operating hours and opened the S.A.F.E. (Student Athlete and the Family Enhancement) Center that offers a refueling station where students have daily access to a healthy assortment of additional nutritional food and snack options beyond the dining hall.

This fall, Delta State University's Student Affairs is opening The Statesman Shelf, a food pantry for students. This endeavor is a collaboration with the Hattiesburg-based nonprofit Extra Table and the Social Work Department. The first "Blessings in a Box" food pantry was placed on the grounds of the Robert E. Smith School of Nursing at Delta State to address food insecurity and improve access to healthy foods. Seven additional blessing boxes will be placed throughout Bolivar County in the near future. The project was funded by a Mississippi Nurses Foundation grant awarded to school of nursing.

Jackson State University, the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi all have food banks available for students. Housed inside the university's Campbell Suites North on the Jackson State campus, the Tiger Food Pantry aims to decrease the impact that food insecurity has on students' academic success. With a mission to change the culture of health in the state, The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, a 20-year nonprofit organization, collaborated with the University on the project.

The Mississippi State University Food Security Network (FSN) and Block By Block connect students and employees in need to food resources within the community. Last year 190 individuals were provided with food resources through the FSN. In total, FSN and Block by Block distributed 3,800 meals to students in need. Additionally, MSU is launching "Maroon Meals" notifications through the MSU app that alert students to places and events on campus where free food is available.

Operated by a student committee with the help of student volunteers, the Ole Miss Food Bank was established in 2013 to help alleviate food insecurity. It provides nutritious food products and hygiene products free of charge to student and employees in the Ole Miss community. Graduate students in Nutrition and Hospitality Management are in the process of putting together grab-and-go bags that contain all the ingredients for students to make a certain recipe. The UM Garden Club and students at Willie Price Lab School grow fresh produce for the Food Bank.

The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi toured the Eagle's Nest Food Pantry at the University of Southern Mississippi to get a first-hand look at how it operates so that it can share this knowledge with college campuses across the state. The Partnership has received a grant to study campus hunger in Mississippi and develop solutions for this issue.

All these initiatives are designed to alleviate the financial hardships that may prove to be a barrier to academic success and are key components of overall retention efforts that are implemented to ensure that all students graduate.

Earning a bachelor's degree is the best defense against facing a lifetime of financial hurdles. In Education Pays 2016, the College Board reports that only 4 percent of individuals age 25 or older holding a bachelor's degree were living in households of poverty in 2015, compared to 26 percent of individuals with less than a high school diploma and 13 percent of individuals with a high school diploma. Conversely, the report finds that, when looking at the 35-44 age group, 25 percent of individuals with a bachelor's degree and 38 percent of individuals with an advanced degree earn more than $100,000 per year. Only 2 percent of those with less than a high school diploma and 5 percent of those holding a high school diploma surpass the $100,000 mark in income.

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The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

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