50 community colleges are teaming up to help students with basic needs

New initiative will develop more effective emergency aid programs and raise awareness
By: | September 3, 2021
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A majority of community college students struggle with basic needs such as food and housing, and most of them aren’t getting—or aren’t aware of—the assistance that’s available, according to the nonprofit Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice.

Making sure struggling community college students know what types of support services are available to them is among the priorities of a new project being piloted on more than 50 campuses by the Hope Center and Jobs for the Future.

“At least half of all community college students need basic needs supports, and more likely up to two-thirds,” says Sara Goldrick-Rab, the Hope Center’s president and founder, and a professor of sociology and medicine at Temple University. “Our data show that very few students in need are getting connected to supports.”

Nearly three in five students suffered from food insecurity, housing insecurity and homelessness during fall 2020 and, despite the surplus of federal COVID-19 relief funds, many continue to struggle this year. Over the next year, community college success centers serving 52 campuses in California, Florida, New York, Ohio and Texas will collaborate to develop more effective emergency aid programs.

The network will also help colleges design new data collection methods to identify the biggest barriers and financial needs facing students and adjust policies accordingly, says Ashley Bliss-Lima, the associate director of community college success in Jobs for the Future’s Student Success Center Network.

Students are also grappling with a lack of health care and child care. And, as with the other impacts of the pandemic, these needs hit students of color the hardest, leaving them more likely to leave school, Bliss-Lima says.

“It will help institutions collect data on where the gaps are and where there are opportunities for more support,” she says. “It will help institutions connect the dots to when academic performance declines.”

One solution could be as simple as ensuring applications for various forms of assistance are not needlessly complicated, she says. “It is not that the funds are lacking,” Bliss-Lima says. “The question is, are the systems in place, are the structures in place, are they the most accessible and available to students—are students aware of opportunities available to them to address basic needs?”

Another goal of the project is to make faculty and other campus staff aware of all support services—both on-campus and off—so they can inform students, she says. The initiative will also guide administrations, faculty and staff to better advocate for state and federal policies that support student needs.