WGU Labs, a subsidiary of the nonprofit online Western Governors University, has entered into a research and services agreement with Edquity to measure the effects of its emergency financial aid platform, which will be offered to a portion of WGU's students beginning spring of 2020.
The Brooklyn-based company is the first business to engage WGU Labs' newly launched business accelerator, which is designed to help innovative education businesses grow their impact in the education market.
"WGU Labs provides education technology businesses with research and development services that drive organizational growth," said Todd Bloom, WGU Labs managing director. "And we focus our support on companies that have demonstrated—at an early stage—their commitment to social impact and scalability. Edquity exemplifies these attributes."
Edquity's core product supports college students who are highly at risk of dropping out due to financial challenges. Its goal is to make emergency fund disbursements—typically originating from institutions' safety net programs—more efficient. As issues like food and housing insecurity disproportionately impact low-income students, students of color, LGBTQ students, and adult learners, Edquity's platform is focused on improving educational outcomes and economic mobility for students from these backgrounds.
"Given the extremely precarious financial circumstances of most college students—50 percent of whom suffer from issues like food or housing insecurity—it can take as little as a $200 shock to completely upend a student's experience," said David Helene, founder and CEO of Edquity. "Students can encounter hardships that induce dropout and potentially lead to loan default, and they often don't even realize that their school provides emergency funds."
WGU Labs will research how the Edquity app is used by a portion of its more than 120,000 students and analyze if and how the efficient disbursement of emergency funds impacts student retention and perceptions of institutional support. Additionally, WGU Labs will examine how other student support features within the app are valued by users, such as the aggregation of social services in students' areas of residence that makes it easy to connect with local resources.
With an annual tuition of approximately $6,500 for most undergraduate programs, WGU is committed to keeping costs low to help students graduate with little to no student debt. More than 70 percent of students benefit from financial aid and scholarships, and the school disperses about $15 million in scholarships annually to approximately 8,500 students. Annually, WGU disperses approximately $1 million to students from its Financial Support Fund—a safety net program designed to assist students who experience unusual hardships.
"Our students live all over the country, so the app's ability to share information about local social services is critical," said Amanda Savage, Director of Scholarships at WGU. "Edquity's 'culture of caring' approach will help us address much more acute student needs that impact them and their families, while speeding up the request-to-disbursement timeframe for students who experience hardships."