Freshman Brandon Waugh says the Invest in Success program helped keep him at WSU.
Freshman Brandon Waugh says the Invest in Success program helped keep him at WSU.

The Invest in Success program, just launched this semester, already is making a difference for dozens of Washington State University students. The program offers low-income students the chance to save up to $1,000 and receive as much as $4,000 in matching funds.

This has come just in time for students like Brandon Waugh, who faced a tough financial future from the outset of his college career. He received some scholarship support as a freshman, but he still wasn’t sure if he could afford college in the coming years. His job as a part-time cashier at the Dollar Tree doesn’t cover all of his bills – tuition, books, rent, food and other necessary expenses, and leaves him with tough decisions to make regarding his budget.

The Invest in Success program was designed to offer hope for students like Waugh. He enrolled in the first cohort at WSU, and after just a few months, his hope of earning his degree in History is restored.

“Right when fall semester was ending, I had some financial issues,” says Waugh, a first-year student from East Wenatchee. “I had pretty much drained my bank account and I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to come back for the spring semester. Even though I had scholarships, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pay for books and stuff. Getting accepted (into Invest in Success) was really uplifting. All these things fell into place so that I would be able to continue at Washington State and that was really exciting.”

Invest in Success is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with matching funds from WSU. In addition to the matching funds, participating students receive financial literacy education and holistic advising considering the student’s academic, social and financial life.

For most college students, the idea of socking away the suggested $100 per month is tough to swallow. But Waugh fine-tuned his priorities, cut out non-essential expenditures and is well on his way to earning a huge payoff – $4,000, which can be spent on educational expenses throughout his college career.

Freshman Shannon Emmons says the program already has changed her spending habits and brightened her future at WSU.

“I feel more independent and able to look at my financial future and not freak out,” says Emmons, who is majoring in criminal justice and women’s studies. “In high school we learn how to solve math equations, but we didn’t learn how to pay bills and budget and do taxes, and that’s what this program is teaching me. And I know that I’m going to have a fallback if I do need help with books and expenses. That’s something I didn’t have before.”

The Invest in Success program is filled to capacity, with 85 students enrolled this spring, and program coordinator Kelly Demand expects to have another full cohort on board for the fall semester.

“I see the positive impact of this program every day,” Demand says. “Students who were on the verge of leaving school for financial reasons are feeling relieved and hopeful. Most significantly, students are taking more ownership of their education. These students, who already live on a tight budget, choose to set aside money every month to assist in paying for their education, and this makes them want to persist even more.”

In a few short months, Invest in Success is showing great returns by removing financial barriers that, in the past, may have caused students to give up on their dreams of a WSU degree.

Ugochukwu Nnadi received a returned deposit from his landlord, and instead of treating himself to a shopping spree, he turned the money into a sizable Invest in Success deposit.

“It’s definitely a struggle and you second-guess yourself when you’re putting away money that you feel like you need,” says Nnadi, a sophomore from Spanaway. “But in the long run, it’s going to help you way more than it is now. For me, this program definitely made the difference between me going to school next year, or not.”

Michael Highfill, director of research and proposal development for student success in the Office of the Provost, is seeking more funding so that the program can help even more students.

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