Learning from Eye-Opening Moments to Address Students’ Basic Needs
By Peter J. Taylor, ECMC Foundation
My first revelation into the complexity of students’ basic needs came when I was the chief financial officer (CFO) for the University of California (UC) system.
The nation was gripped by a recession in 2009-2010, and in response to state budget cuts, the UC raised tuition significantly to survive. As CFO, I worked diligently with our team to secure additional funding to help students from low-income backgrounds cover the extra tuition cost. The UC has a proud tradition of providing access to low-income students, and we were all committed to ensuring our tuition increase wouldn’t negatively impact our students with family incomes below $60,000.
We felt good about our work to lessen the impact of the tuition hike for the campuses’ students with the highest financial need. Then one day, I sat down with several students to discuss financial assistance.
And that’s when I had my second revelation. The financial support for tuition was helpful, I learned, but it addressed only one of the myriad barriers that students face when pursuing their degrees.
Understanding the Need
Today, the education and philanthropic communities understand that basic needs security is crucial for postsecondary education success, thanks in large part to emerging research from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice (Hope Center) in recent years.
Research from the Hope Center found that basic needs insecurity is prevalent among students at two- and four-year campuses and impacts student persistence and graduation outcomes. National survey findings found that 45% of respondents had been food insecure in the past 30 days, 56% had been housing insecure in the previous year and 17% had been homeless during that year. Students who are more likely to experience these daunting challenges are students of color, with about 56% of black and Latinx students experiencing food insecurity.
While efforts that address students’ basic needs exist, there has been a tremendous opportunity for philanthropic leadership and strategic investment devoted to the issue. That is why ECMC Foundation is proud to support the first initiative of its kind to address students’ basic needs—and ultimately, help students cross the finish line to graduation.
Addressing the Issue
This week, ECMC Foundation proudly launches the Basic Needs Initiative. Through this work, we have made $3.1 million in grants to seven organizations and institutions across the nation that are working to bridge gaps students experience in basic needs. The cohort represents a broad geographic range and works across two- and four-year institutions.
During the three-year initiative, the grantees—consisting of postsecondary institutions, community-based organizations and research teams—will undertake a wide array of projects, including launching new initiatives, scaling existing evidence-based programs and conducting research studies, to help further the field’s knowledge of students’ basic needs.
The Basic Needs Initiative cohort’s work stands to reach approximately 200,000 students across the country. But we hope the impact doesn’t stop there. We want this initiative to be a stepping stone to even broader impact in securing students’ basic needs and advancing college success.
We hope what we learn from our grantees and what they learn from each other will lead to increased graduation rates among students impacted by the programs. To that end, the grantees of the Basic Needs Initiative will also be part of a learning cohort to exchange ideas and solutions as well as access a collective brain trust around shared challenges. ECMC Foundation will evaluate the cohort’s learning and combined impact with the goal of encouraging the widespread adoption and advancement of best practices. Additionally, lessons learned from this cohort will inform our strategic grantmaking to improve educational outcomes, especially for students from historically and presently underserved backgrounds.
Guiding the Future
We also acknowledge there’s no one-size-fits-all mold for assisting students—many of whom don’t match the outdated description of the 18-to-24-year-old dependent student seeking a four-year degree. Today’s students are more likely to be over 25 and be the first in their family to attend college. Defined as independent students, they often face competing demands for their time including work and family responsibilities.
If we can generate a movement that leads to advocacy, action and new resources, frameworks for holistic approaches among campus staff and policy that drives statewide commitments to campus resource, then we can ensure that the pathway toward degree completion does not remain out of reach for our students who would have the highest returns on investment.
The ECMC Foundation team and I congratulate the organizations and institutions selected as part of the first cohort of grantees for the Basic Needs Initiative. We look forward to plenty of eye-opening moments that will help us address students’ basic needs security and enhance their success in school and life.