ECMC Foundation launches Basic Needs Initiative

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Community college students in Arkansas, California, Michigan, Texas, Washington and elsewhere will benefit from a first-of-its-kind initiative in the philanthropic and postsecondary education sector to help address basic needs insecurity among college students.

The ECMC Foundation on Tuesday announced its Basic Needs initiative, which will grant a total of $3.1 million over three years to address the issues.

The first cohort of selected organizations includes seven programs focused on addressing food and housing insecurities through various approaches, from food pantries and housing assistance, to childcare, transportation and mental health. Arkansas Community Colleges and the Michigan Community College Association are among the recipients. Ithaka S+R, John Burton Advocates for Youth, the University of Texas at San Antonio and United Way of King County in Washington state also received grants and will work to help community college students.

Addressing a need

The initiative was created in response to research by various organizations which found that basic needs insecurity is prevalent among students at two- and four-year campuses and affects students’ persistence and graduation outcomes, according to the foundation.

“College students face obstacles to success that go beyond mastering their coursework,” said Sarah Belnick, senior program director of college success at ECMC Foundation, a nonprofit focused on improving postsecondary outcomes for students from underserved backgrounds. “For many, it’s basic needs concerns like hunger, housing insecurity and homelessness that form the roadblocks to persisting through college and completing a degree.”

The initiative also will facilitate discussions among participating grantees, and monitor and evaluate the cohort’s work. The goal is to develop and share scalable practices that best address basic needs insecurity, the foundation said.

A look at the programs

Most of the selected programs address needs among community college students. Arkansas Community Colleges, an association representing all 22 community colleges in the state, will scale its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach model across its member colleges. The goal is to enroll more students in SNAP and other public benefits and to determine the impact of campus food pantry services.

Michigan Community College Association will address financial stability for student success through a new initiative called Michigan Building Economic Stability Today. It aims to develop strategies focused on non-academic barriers to student success across 26 MCCA-member campuses.

The University of Texas at San Antonio is partnering with San Antonio College to build a statewide network of 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.

Ithaka S+R will research and design measures to help community college students succeed, including measures examining students’ basic needs and definitions of success. The goal is to raise awareness of holistic student needs, develop new success metrics and produce recommendations.

The John Burton Advocates for Youth will focus on homeless college students in California, including community college students. It will provide technical assistance in using state funding to help homeless students find stable housing.

United Way of King County will use its grant to expand its Bridge to Finish program, which helps students persist in obtaining college credentials — mainly through community colleges — by connecting them to basic needs supports and financial education.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.