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Emergency Funds: Filling in the Financial Gap to Ensure Student Thriving

An unexpected job loss. A sudden illness. A death in the family. Unforeseen life events can arise at any given time—for anyone. And for some families, such hardships put into question whether a student will be able to pay their college tuition as planned.

With the belief that nothing should stand in the way of a student’s dream of achieving their college degree, American University strives to meet 100 percent of incoming student financial need. Change Can’t Wait: The Campaign for American University supports this mission by increasing scholarships and financial aid.

When personal crises occur, AU steps in to alleviate the financial burden—and the emotional toll of that burden—by providing immediate, short-term relief through emergency financial aid funds.

President Emeritus Neil Kerwin and Ann Kerwin established a current-use fund to support students through unforeseen financial hurdles. In 2017, to honor President Kerwin’s legacy when he stepped down, university friends made gifts to endow and name the Kerwin Family Emergency Aid Fund. Since its inception, the fund has helped dozens of students fill the financial gap, ensuring their paths forward at AU and beyond.

When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, AU acted swiftly to protect and care for its community. Just days after announcing the move to virtual learning in March 2020, AU established the Student Emergency Relief Fund (SERF) in anticipation of immediate needs resulting from the pandemic. SERF helped cover unanticipated travel and housing costs, essential technology tools for virtual learning, and more. During those uncertain times, AU alumni, faculty, staff, students, parents, and friends made gifts to SERF, exemplifying the spirit of service that is AU. 

That same spirit has inspired the AU community to set up and sustain other emergency funds across campus. Just last year, AU alumnus Matt Klinger, SIS/BA ’95, generously established the SIS Emergency Fund, which grants a one-time award to students in AU’s School of International Service. Klinger, who serves as vice president of operations for a consulting firm focused on improving education, could not allow unexpected financial difficulty to impede a student from academic success—or cause them to drop out of school altogether. And neither could fellow alumni. Inspired by his philanthropy as word of the SIS Emergency Fund spread, others have since made gifts in support of Klinger’s mission—further demonstrating the power of the AU community. 

As Klinger told the Eagle this spring, “I’ve come to realize that the college degree, whether a graduate or undergraduate, can be a life-changing moment…and to have a short-term financial need be the reason that someone can’t have a life-changing moment, I just felt like we should do something about that.”

Thanks to the vision and compassion of alumni like Matt Klinger, the SIS Emergency Fund is not alone. AU’s College of Arts and Sciences, School of Communication, School of Public Affairs, and Washington College of Law, to name a few, offer similar aid. Together with the Kerwin Family Emergency Aid Fund, SERF, and others like the International Student Emergency Fund, students have access to a variety of support. 

AU is proud to be a home for students who want to make a difference. With emergency funds on hand, students can confidently realize their ambitions despite sudden hardships, achieve their degrees, and depart AU changemakers ready to impact the world.

Click here to support an AU emergency fund.