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ECMC Foundation Launches Basic Needs Initiative

$3.1 Million in Grants to Support Students’ Basic Needs and College Success Efforts

November 19, 2019


LOS ANGELES—ECMC Foundation announced today the launch of its Basic Needs Initiative, a first-of-its-kind effort in the philanthropic and postsecondary education sector designed to address and alleviate basic needs insecurity among students.

Seven organizations and institutions received grants totaling $3.1 million over three years to address myriad issues, including food and housing security, childcare, mental health, financial assistance and transportation. This is the first designated grantee cohort addressing students’ basic needs through an initiative funded by a national postsecondary funder.

The initiative was created in response to research from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice (Hope Center), California State University, MDRC and the National Bureau of Economic Research, among others, which found that basic needs insecurity is prevalent among students at two- and four-year campuses and impacts students’ persistence and graduation outcomes. National survey findings reported 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.

“Today the education and philanthropic communities understand that basic needs security is crucial for postsecondary education success,” said Peter Taylor, president, ECMC Foundation. “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 student basic needs—and ultimately, help students cross the finish line to graduation.”

“College students face obstacles to success that go beyond mastering their coursework,” said Sarah Belnick, senior program director of College Success, ECMC Foundation. “For many, it’s basic needs concerns like hunger, housing insecurity and homelessness that form the roadblocks to persisting through college and completing a degree.” Belnick oversees the College Success focus area at ECMC Foundation, which is leading the Basic Needs Initiative.

In addition to funding programs, initiatives and research, the work of the Basic Needs Initiative will also include facilitated discussions among participating grantees, the measurement and monitoring of the cohort’s progress, and an impact evaluation at the end. The goal is to develop and share scalable practices that best address basic needs insecurity. Lessons learned from the cohort will inform ECMC Foundation’s strategic grantmaking and be shared with the larger postsecondary education and philanthropic communities.

Funded programs include:

Arkansas Community Colleges (ACC)—Basic Needs for Community College Completion
ACC is scaling its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach model across Arkansas’ 22 community colleges. The goal is to enroll more students in SNAP and other public benefits across the system and to determine the impact of campus food pantry services, with each campus then continuing these support efforts.

Auburn University Foundation—Campus Food Insecurity Initiative
Auburn University is piloting and scaling an approach using direct student supports to address food insecurity at 10 partner four-year universities in Alabama. Auburn and the 10 campuses also will work to expand Alabama Campus Coalition’s food insecurity activities to additional schools in the state.

Ithaka S+R—Basic Needs for Community College Completion
Ithaka Harbors is researching, designing and reporting on measures for student success. In addition to institutions’ more traditional success metrics, these measures will include students’ basic needs and definitions of success. The goal is to raise awareness of holistic student needs, develop new success metrics and produce recommendations regarding these insights.

John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY)—California Student Homelessness Project
JBAY is providing technical assistance in using state funding to help students experiencing homelessness transition into stable housing. The work targets the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges systems. JBAY aims to reduce the number of California college students who experience homelessness, enhancing academic success among the most vulnerable and underserved populations.

Michigan Community College Association (MCCA)—Financial Stability for Student Success
MCCA is launching its Michigan Building Economic Stability Today initiative. The program addresses the lack of strategies focused on non-academic barriers to student success across 26 MCCA campuses. MCAA hopes to leverage partnerships to assist students in meeting basic needs.

The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA)—Linking Basic Needs Initiatives
UTSA, in partnership with San Antonio College, is building a statewide network of Hispanic-serving institutions to advance evidence-based basic needs initiatives. The goal is to guide each institution to develop its own basic needs and student success assessments.

United Way of King County (UWKC)—Bridge to Finish
Seattle-based UWKC is expanding the Bridge to Finish program, which helps students persist to obtain college credentials by connecting them to basic needs supports and financial education. The organization hopes to provide support for students and to work toward policy changes that will advance equity in college success.

Reactions from several grantees of the first BNI cohort include:

“Higher education institutions that are forward-thinking about student outcomes need to find ways to meet students’ basic needs. Our work, focused on scaling the SNAP program to 22 community colleges in Arkansas, will help the field identify and scale ways to meet those needs,” said Mike Leach, director, Arkansas Community Colleges Center for Student Success. “We applaud ECMC Foundation for making investments in meeting college students’ basic needs.”

“For students from low-income backgrounds, whose academic prospects are already precarious, the experience of homelessness is destabilizing and makes college completion unlikely,” said Debbie Raucher, project director, John Burton Advocates for Youth. “We are grateful to ECMC Foundation for recognizing the urgency of this issue and dedicating resources to address it.”

“This is an exciting opportunity for UTSA to take the lead role in building an understanding of basic needs initiatives and student success,” said Thankam Sunil, director, The University of Texas at San Antonio Institute for Health Disparities Research. “It is vital to understand students’ needs and help similar institutions build capacity to engage basic needs initiatives to effectively support student success.”


ECMC Foundation is a Los Angeles-based, nationally focused foundation whose mission is to inspire and to facilitate improvements that affect educational outcomes—especially among underserved populations—through evidence-based innovation. It is one of several affiliates under the ECMC Group enterprise based in Minneapolis. ECMC Foundation makes investments in two focus areas: College Success and Career Readiness; and uses a spectrum of funding structures, including strategic grantmaking and program-related investments, to invest in both nonprofit and for-profit ventures. Working with grantees, partners and peers, ECMC Foundation’s vision is for all learners to unlock their fullest potential. Learn more about ECMC Foundation by visiting and ECMC Group by visiting 


Mai Tran,

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