Emergency Student Aid (ESA)

For low-income families—like those of the 92% of UNCF students who qualify for financial aid—the money needed to handle an emergency can mean the difference between staying in school and dropping out.

Emergencies happen. A parent gets laid off or receives a pay cut; an after-school job is eliminated; a family member has an accident or gets sick.  The money needed to handle these emergencies may be the money financing a college education.

And, once students leave college, they’re likely never to return. We owe it to these students to be there for them when their college education is at risk. They’ve studied hard and kept their grades up. Their parents have contributed what they can. They deserve our help—because even though dealing with the unexpected is a fact of life, it doesn’t have to mean putting an end to a student’s dreams.

Since 2009, more than 13,000 last-dollar scholarships totaling nearly $30 million—the average award being $2,000—have helped UNCF students stay in college and complete their degrees through the UNCF Campaign Emergency Student Aid (CESA, now called UNCF Emergency Student Aid (ESA)). ESA was established at the height of the nation’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression to help HBCU students poised to graduate, but short on funding, receive a completion grant to cover their outstanding balances.


The significant impact of ESA in helping more HBCU students graduate on time has created an opportunity for UNCF to expand its portfolio of emergency aid programs available through UNCF member institutions. The new and improved program—the UNCF Emergency Student Aid (ESA) program—replaces CESA and makes the following six emergency aid funding options available to students attending UNCF-member institutions:


College completion grant that covers outstanding balances, such as tuition and unpaid fees, for students who are on track to graduate or continue to the next semester. Institutions identify students in need and make awards of up to $2,500.




“Just-in-time” financial assistance for students at risk of dropping out of college due to a financial hardship, like medical bills, car repair, a trip home to help an ailing parent, etc. Students must complete an online application form and show proof of financial hardship. The maximum award is $1,000.


esa degree completion artEMERGENCY LOANS 

“Just-in-time” intervention aid for students to address hardship related to the timing of a student’s financial aid disbursement. The loans are interest-free, up to $500 and must be paid back within a designated time period.




With more than 40% of four-year college students experiencing hunger and/or lack of nutritionally balanced meals on a regular basis, grants will be made available to students who are facing food security challenges in the form of credits to their school accounts to underwrite dining hall meal plans for a specified amount of time or meals as determined by the institution.




Housing insecurity and homelessness have a particularly strong, statistically significant relationship with college completion rates, persistence and credit attainment. Unfortunately, an increasingly large percentage of four-year college students face challenges related to paying rent and utilities on time and are forced to move frequently. Assistance to cover expenses such as on-campus housing, rent and utilities, security deposits, short-term hotel vouchers during extended school breaks, etc., will be available to UNCF-member HBCU students who are facing housing-related challenges.




Post-disaster financial assistance to help students and their families alleviate the stress of managing property loss, housing and/or employment from a large-scale natural disaster. This fund will now be maintained year-round to ensure UNCF can deploy resources immediately.



Your contribution to ESA will help ensure this important safety net is in place to catch students when they are most vulnerable.

If it were not for ESA, I would not have graduated on time from Bethune-Cookman University or fulfilled my grandfather’s last wishes for my college journey.

Erica Nichole Walker ESA recipient



Our nation’s economic success is inextricably linked to more young people getting to and through college. Seniors with unpaid balances risk being denied graduation. Underclassmen with short-term emergencies risk dropping out and never graduating.  That’s why your gift to ESA is so important.

Your gift to our expanded emergency aid program will help:

  • Increase graduation rates of low-income and minority students at UNCF-member institutions
  • Close the gap on unmet financial need for low-income students of color