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Basic Needs Initiative

Addressing Basic Needs Insecurity

ECMC Foundation defines basic needs insecurity as the lack or fear of the lack of resources like food, housing, childcare, transportation, technology, physical safety, mental health services and more. Basic needs insecurity pervades postsecondary education, disrupting learning, persistence and completion. To thrive academically and succeed in their careers, students need support both inside and outside the classroom. ECMC Foundation’s Basic Needs Initiative serves to find and fund solutions to a systemic, national challenge that affects millions of students and the institutions that serve them.

While much about the scope of basic needs insecurity among college students is not yet well documented, the 2019–20 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study provided the first nationally representative data about the number of postsecondary students experiencing food insecurity and homelessness. The study found that pre-pandemic, 23% of undergraduates had experienced food insecurity and 8% experienced homelessness in the past 30 days.

Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic and myriad other factors have exacerbated the problem, especially among students from underserved backgrounds. Further, the impacts of basic needs insecurity are far-reaching and often extend to students’ families and communities.

A Vision to Support the Whole Student

ECMC Foundation believes every postsecondary student should have the resources they need throughout their academic journey to focus, succeed and complete their degree. The postsecondary ecosystem must play an active role in ensuring this happens. With this initiative, we envision a postsecondary experience that allows students to reach their fullest potential, unencumbered by basic needs insecurity.

Our multipronged approach aims to decrease the percentage of postsecondary students experiencing basic needs insecurity by 10% by 2033.

Strategies for Action

To realize this ambitious-but-possible goal, ECMC Foundation addresses basic needs insecurity in postsecondary education by supporting programs and solutions that align with the following strategies.

Growing Data Capacity: Incorporate use of data to understand effectiveness of basic needs interventions on student experiences, nonacademic outcomes and academic outcomes.

Scaling Effective Practices: Leverage, improve and modernize local, state and federally funded basic needs services that align to the evolving needs of today’s students and expand use of services.

Informing Policy Reform: Advance the understanding of policy change to remove structural barriers to basic needs services and promote student success.

Read the Basic Needs Initiative Theory of Action.

Opportunities for Funding

The initiative’s multiyear commitment will distribute grants and investments through a series of requests for proposals and the Foundation’s open letter of inquiry portal. Funding decisions incorporate the latest research from the field and findings from the initiative’s initial round of grants to focus on high-impact strategies to relieve basic needs insecurities at a national, systemic level.

The Foundation will launch the initiative’s first request for proposal (RFP) in early 2024 for projects aimed at growing data capacity. Information about RFPs will be posted on our website and shared via our newsletter.

Basic Needs Initiative History

ECMC Foundation launched the Basic Needs Initiative in 2019 in response to research from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice (Hope Center), California State UniversityMDRC and the National Bureau of Economic Research, among others, which found that basic needs insecurity is prevalent at both two- and four-year campuses, impacting students' persistence and graduation outcomes. 

As the first national postsecondary education funder with a designated grantee cohort addressing basic needs among college students, ECMC Foundation initially distributed $3.1 million in grants to seven organizations and institutions working with more than 70 two- and four-year partner institutions:

Arkansas Community Colleges (ACC)—Basic Needs for Community College Completion

Auburn University Foundation—Campus Food Insecurity Initiative

Ithaka S+R—Basic Needs for Community College Completion

John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY)—California Student Homelessness Project

Michigan Community College Association (MCCA)—Financial Stability for Student Success

University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK)—Linking Basic Needs Initiatives

United Way of King County (UWKC)—Bridge to Finish

Learnings from Our First Five Years

Working with our evaluation partners at Education Northwest, ECMC Foundation has continued evaluating and analyzing the initiative’s outcomes and our grantees’ successes. The January 2023 evaluation report provides case studies of basic needs services at colleges and universities and lessons for sustaining basic needs services. A new report will be released by early 2024.

These findings suggest that institutions understand that offering basic needs resources and services is fundamental to student success—but also that efforts to address such a widespread and entrenched set of issues must operate at the systemic and policy levels, too, rather than putting the sole onus for efficacy on individual institutions. The report also highlights just how key ongoing data collection and analysis is for undergirding continued action—and for ensuring that action proves effective.  

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The Foundation aims to drive systemic change, getting at the root causes of complex challenges in higher education, not just the symptoms.

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