Nearly 550 participants gathered at #RealCollege: A National Convening on Food and Housing Insecurity in September 2018 hosted by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. #RealCollege provided an opportunity for practitioners, researchers, students, policymakers, and activists to discuss policies and programs to foster change across higher education in support of students with basic needs insecurity. These passionate, engaged, and collaborative people came together to discuss some of the many challenges students face and to take an honest look at the reality of college today, sharing insight into what has been successful and what is being discussed at a variety of institutions.
Reflecting back on #RealCollege, a few themes come to mind, associated with some tweets and statements logged throughout the weekend:
You have to know who your students are in order to serve their needs. Ask them what they need.
– Cara Crowley, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, Amarillo College
How do you know when students at your institution are food or housing insecure or facing a financial crisis? How is awareness spread among faculty, administrators, and staff at your institution? These questions, and others, need to be answered to better support students in financial need. NASPA’s Landscape Analysis of Emergency Aid Programs found that more than 70% of responding institutions from most sectors offer emergency aid, and over 80% have been doing so for more than 3 years. More than likely, your institution’s emergency aid efforts began when a staff member or students became aware of several students in need, or when a donor made a contribution to be used for whatever would help students be successful. Despite the origin of your emergency aid or basic needs support, many members of the campus community still may not know such programming and supports exist or understand the prevalence of students in need.
The institution should decide how it can assess the needs of its population, gauge how many students need support, and learn what types of support are offered internally, as well as which departments or individuals offer those resources. Gaining an understanding of the current situation will be the foundation of developing next steps and maximizing reach. The institution should also take inventory of awareness within the campus community. For example, how do faculty and staff learn that there are students in need? How do students find out about available resources and the reality their peers face? The institution can also start to plan for proactive use of data to seek students who might benefit from some type of support.
Don’t get stuck on a food pantry; that’s just the beginning. Fix systems, policies, procedures.
– Dr. DeRionne Pollard, President, Montgomery College
Change is hard. It’s uncomfortable. It takes effort. Sometimes it means admitting things aren’t going well or we decide to discontinue a process or program. However, change can also be positive and affirming. And if done correctly, change can relieve a burden, create an opportunity, make space for beneficial partnerships, and foster creativity. And, yes, it’s still hard.
There may be barriers to change at an institution when it comes to providing emergency aid resources to students. Those barriers could be existing processes, policies, and practices; physical barriers like lack of space; or even counterproductive attitudes and engagement. How many times do phrases like “we’ve always done it this way” or “that would never work here” come up as a response to a proposed new way of doing something?
Intentional and thoughtful planning is necessary to address and overcome barriers. Using a change management framework can make a big difference; a diagnostic tool, such as the emergency aid rubric can be extremely helpful in further understanding and prioritizing the actions your institution can take to deliver timely resources to students in need.
We must find ways to teach the college students we have, not the ones we wish we had.– Jesse Stommel, Executive Director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, University of Mary Washington
We may not all teach students in the classroom, but when students at our institutions are faced with the decision of buying a book or buying food, it’s not hard to understand the perspective that “textbooks are a social justice issue.” The increasing cost of college continues to be a barrier and a burden. Shaking up the traditional ways of doing things might make us uncomfortable, but is that any reason not to do it if the result could make a difference in the lives of students?
Create an intake process where students only have to tell their story one time. Know your students well; build strong relationships with students; reduce the stigma of seeking these support mechanisms.
– Dr. Karen Stout, President & CEO, Achieving the Dream
It’s not easy to ask for help or admit to someone else that you need it. Students have accomplished so much by the time they get to college; who wouldn’t want to give the impression they have it all together? How might students feel about the need to ask for financial or basic needs resources?
When a student does ask for help, how can our institutions receive the student with care and avoid sending them to multiple places or require them to keep telling their story over and over? Coming from a perspective of care, institutions can streamline a holistic student support process and help a student to get the assistance they need.
The good news is that there are many, many individuals and institutions across the country working hard to support students who experience basic needs insecurity and financial insecurity. Through events like #RealCollege, and the community of practice sharing resources at Student ARC, solutions abound. The only thing perhaps more evident than the idea that any institution can implement support for students in need is that there are colleagues sharing their promising practices, laying bare their trials and challenges, and supporting one another in an effort to make college a reality for those who want it. Raise awareness of the situation at your institution and across the country, reframe the process with students in mind, and care enough to share that aim of Amarillo College to love your students to success.