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Sharing Our Learnings from the Basic Needs Initiative

February 06, 2023

By Sarah Belnick, Senior Program Director, and Ireri Rivas Mier y Teran, Program Officer

As part of our Basic Needs Initiative, a new evaluation report released by Education Northwest provides lessons for imple­menting basic needs services, highlights ongoing implementation challenges, and outlines implications for practice, future support and research. The report uses survey data from 57 grantee partner institutions and case studies of basic needs services at five institutions in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Michigan and Washington.

The partner institutions provided a broad array of basic needs services. While food assistance was the most common type of service provided, emergency funds were a close second, likely due to HEERF federal funds. Institutions also provided resources around mental and physical health, housing, technology, and transportation—all timely resources throughout the pandemic. While childcare assistance was the least common basic needs service, similar to 2021 survey findings, we are encouraged that more institutions are indeed providing childcare services to support postsecondary student success.

Setting Goals

Based on promising practices and survey findings from participating grantees and nearly 70 postsecondary institutions in six states, Education Northwest developed a rubric to assist colleges in assessing their progress in implementing basic needs services. The rubric has four recommended goals that institutions can aim toward to ensure student-centered, sustainable, and impactful basic needs on their campuses.

  1. Provide timely, accessible and comprehensive basic needs resources and services with clearly navigable systems and outcomes
  2. Provide student-centered approaches that alleviate stigma associated with utilizing basic needs resources and services
  3. Provide targeted case management to help students navigate and access basic needs resources and services
  4. Collect and use in-depth student data and demographics

Lessons from the Field

In addition, the report includes five case studies that provide examples of the types of activities campuses used to reach the goals listed above. The case studies provide important insights from students and basic needs providers. Some examples include:

“I can show you what I really like about the emergency funding. For example, the intake form. I like the fact that with this contact form on the intake, you don’t have to go too deep into it. You’re putting out your basic information to get a return call back from somebody where you can then explain it more. You don’t have to worry about writing down every detail … I like that you actually get to talk with the person and then they don’t limit you to what sources you can ask for, so I was able to go through and say I needed help with food, utility costs, housing costs, housing resources, transportation.” – Student

A staff member from Napa Valley College shared the importance of being intentional with language. Instead of using the phrase “food basket,” they used the phrase “free grocery store.” Instead of using the word “neediness,” they described students accessing services as “resourceful.”

“They really have helped me. They have built my confidence. I mean, I communicate better at my job, with instructors … I am amazed at myself sometimes. Like, I did that? I did that? So, yeah. It has helped me a great deal.” – Student

Building Knowledge

The report also proposes additional areas of support for future work. ECMC Foundation has learned so much from our BNI grantees and their partner institutions. We are grateful for their contributions to the field and to our understanding of need and opportunities. Moving forward, we are continuing to make investments in this space and will announce our future strategy for the Basic Needs Initiative, informed by the work of our grantees, in the coming months.

Read the report.

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