In January 2022, the Biden Administration announced nearly $200 million from the American Rescue Plan to fund basic needs supports for college students at community colleges and rural institutions. These basic needs supports include housing and food assistance, child care for student parents, mental health counseling and support in addressing financial challenges.
A 2019 survey conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University asked higher education students about several barriers to educational engagement and found that:
- 46% of students faced housing insecurity.
- 17% of students reported experiencing homelessness in the previous year.
- 39% of students were food-insecure.
- Nearly two-thirds of students on college campuses reported worsened mental health since the beginning of the pandemic.
Given these barriers, Education Commission of the States recently published a Policy Brief, Community College Approaches to Student Supports, that highlights ways states and community college systems support students through two-generation approaches, mental health supports, emergency stipends, and housing and food assistance. The Policy Brief also highlights where states have coordinated these approaches in one-stop centers on campus or through staff positions.
Community colleges are mission-driven institutions that serve a diverse population and are committed to access and community needs. With this in mind, state policymakers have a unique opportunity to leverage existing efforts and create new programs with the influx of federal funds to support students in overcoming barriers and community colleges facing decreased enrollment.
To the extent possible, community colleges use various approaches to tailor programs to the needs of individual students. For instance, because of a lack of stable housing options, a student may be temporarily experiencing homelessness; with housing assistance, they are better able to participate in their learning environment. For another student, the barrier may be child care, so an on-campus child care center that allows the student to participate in their own educational pursuits while their child gets a high-quality early start makes the difference.
For a third student, the challenge may be that their car broke down and they can’t get to school, so a one-time stipend may help solve the issue long-term. Some states and community college systems have coordinated these supports into one-stop or resource offices on campus to help students navigate and access the services available.
Several national organizations and foundations also work with states and community colleges to improve the provision of services and supports for community college students. Below are just a few.
- Jobs for the Future’s Student Success Center Network works with statewide student success centers to develop, evaluate and scale student support services.
- Achieving the Dream’s Holistic Student Supports Program offers postsecondary institutions and systems coaching and professional development support to redesign the provision of student supports.
- ECMC Foundation’s Basic Needs Initiative supports grantee organizations to address basic needs in support of academic achievement, including food, housing, child care and transportation.
- Single Stop USA’s Community College Initiative supports community college students with case management services.
Between the influx of federal relief funds, state efforts and national organizations and foundations, states and community college systems have the opportunity to enhance recruitment and retention efforts, create greater access for a diverse group of students and improve the lives of students and their families.