Skip to Content

Basic Needs Initiative

Supporting the Whole Student by Fulfilling Basic Needs

Access to basic needs, such as food, housing, childcare, mental health, financial assistance and transportation, is critical for ensuring strong academic performance, increasing persistence and graduation, and improving wellbeing among students enrolled in postsecondary education.

ECMC Foundation launched the Basic Needs Initiative (BNI) 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. One national survey found that 45% of students had been food insecure in the past 30 days and 56% had been housing insecure in the previous year, while 17% had been homeless.


As the first national postsecondary education funder with a designated grantee cohort addressing basic needs among college students, BNI launched in 2019 with $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
ACC scaled its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach model across Arkansas' 22 community colleges with the goal of enrolling 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 piloted and scaled an approach using direct student supports to address food insecurity at 10 partner four-year universities in Alabama. Auburn and the 10 campuses also 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 S+R is researching, designing and reporting on measures for student success. In addition to institutions' more traditional success metrics, these measures 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. Read Ithaka S+R's reports, Measuring the Whole Student and Moving the Needle on College Student Basic Needs

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. Read JBAY's report, Equity Made Real: Promising Strategies for Addressing College Student Basic Needs

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

University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK)—Linking Basic Needs Initiatives
UTK is building a statewide network of Texas 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.

Moving Forward

Since the pandemic, ECMC Foundation has increased support for efforts addressing college students’ basic needs, committing an additional $10 million to more than 30 grantees outside of the original BNI cohort. The Foundation is currently working with evaluators from Education Northwest to learn from the entire portfolio of grants to inform future investments and better understand the reach and potential impact of ECMC Foundation-funded basic needs projects.

Related News

Our Focus

Our Strategic Framework

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

Learn More