Washington’s college students have urgent and unmet basic needs
Many students were worried about making ends meet even before COVID-19, and we know that more people are experiencing greater need as the conditions of this pandemic persist. Recent research and public attention have highlighted that food and housing insecurity undermine persistence and completion rates for postsecondary students.
While basic needs insecurity is not new for low-income Washington students, our current public health and economic crises magnify barriers and expand the number of students who face them. These barriers include food and housing insecurity, childcare access and expenses, and mental/behavioral health.
Disparities in basic needs security
Low‐income, first‐generation, and marginalized student populations face terrible disparities in basic needs security. In a 2019 needs assessment of 28 of 34 Washington community and technical colleges, students of color, parenting students, former foster care, students identifying as non-binary or trans reported significantly higher rates of basic needs insecurity. Recent research shows that these vulnerable populations have been affected even more deeply through the recent crises.
WSAC’s strategic challenge
WSAC’s role is to support postsecondary institutions and catalyze partnerships toward comprehensive and coordinated supports for students' basic needs. These include food and housing insecurity, childcare access, and behavioral health.
- Increase understanding of the prevalence and dynamics of basic needs insecurity in postsecondary through supporting data collection and analysis.
- Convene stakeholders to identify policy barriers, spotlight innovative partnerships, create learning exchanges, and build networks for solutions across education and community sectors.
- Implement state legislation addressing basic needs and work with stakeholders to identify recommendations.
WSAC is working with partners on and off campuses to learn about and strengthen supports for students.
- Washington Basic Needs Survey
- Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness learning community
- Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness pilot
- Food Security
- Postsecondary Basic Needs advisory group
Basic Needs Survey
Basic Needs Survey
What’s the prevalence of unmet basic needs in Washington?
Washington lacks data on how common it is for students to struggle with unmet basic needs like housing, food, healthcare, childcare, technology, and internet access. State and regional data on unmet basic needs can help Washington more effectively tackle basic needs barriers to postsecondary attainment by:
- Increasing awareness of the true scale of basic needs insecurity, particularly in communities and education sectors where it may be “invisible” or counter to popular perception
- Pointing to disparate impacts in particular student populations through the lenses of student status, race/ethnicity, veteran or employment status, etc.
- Serving as an advocacy tool for data-driven solutions on campus, regional, and state levels.
First in the nation opportunity
To address this information gap, a statewide Basic Needs Data Work Group proposes a first-in-the-nation coordinated, regular survey across all Washington higher education institutions. With representatives from multiple CTCs and baccalaureate institutions facilitated by WSAC, the Work Group has built consensus that critical basic needs data can drive change in institutions, regions, and the state. They have developed a data collection instrument and an implementation proposal that build on current campus assessment efforts as well as national best practices.
How can we assess unmet basic needs in Washington?
The Basic Needs Survey that the Work Group proposes is:
- Comparable: A common instrument across the state, aligned with the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice’s #Real College survey, allows Washington institutions to understand their basic needs data in relation to regional, state and even national data. It also allows Washington to better understand disparate impacts on different student populations, and see trends in basic needs insecurity over time.
- Essential: Among the many basic needs data options, the Work Group has agreed on a limited set of questions focused on food security, housing security and homelessness, childcare access, healthcare access, tech and internet access, and use of college/community resources and public benefits.
- Streamlined: Demographics questions are included to be able to understand the prevalence of basic needs insecurity across different student populations. Alternatively, an institution can opt instead to streamline the survey by matching the basic needs survey questions to institutional demographic data.
- Flexible: The instrument can be fielded as a stand-alone survey, or be integrated within an existing survey that the college plans to field. If a college wants expanded basic needs information, optional questions are provided that they can add to the core survey.
Benefits to participating colleges
The Work Group has identified multiple benefits to colleges in participating in annual basic needs assessment coordinated with all Washington institutions:
- Increase institution-wide awareness and understanding of students’ basic needs barriers, and engage campus and community partners in solutions
- Better inform institutional strategic planning for targeted, coordinated support toward students’ retention and completion, as well as inform opportunities for regional and state collaboration.
- Provide data to drive investment and grant opportunities from local, state, and national partners.
The Work Group proposes an annual coordinated assessment on the prevalence of unmet basic needs in Washington to provide ongoing information to colleges, regions, and the state. Colleges can choose:
- Option 1, Standard survey: Colleges field the standardized, stand-alone survey with the modules that are provided including questions on food and housing, healthcare, and tech access. Limited demographic questions are also provided.
- Option 2, Customized survey: Colleges customize the survey for maximum flexibility, including options to integrate the question module into an existing survey, add optional questions, and/or match responses to college demographic data for a fuller picture.
Survey Pilot Opportunity
For 2021-2022, all colleges are invited to participate in the pilot basic needs survey. This will give colleges data on campus unmet basic needs prevalence, and also help shape the survey and the process in preparation for statewide participation in Fall 2022.
- During the Academic Year: Colleges will field the survey.
- Spring: Pilot institutions will share survey experiences and recommendations to inform full state coordinated assessment.
- Fall 2022: Statewide participation in basic needs assessment.
For more information and to discuss options, contact Ami Magisos, Assistant Director of Policy and Planning, WSAC (Amim@wsac.wa.gov).
Washington’s Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness (SSEH) Pilot was enacted in 2019 legislation (2SSB 5800) and is administered by the Washington Student Achievement Council and Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. The pilot was expanded in 2021 legislation (SHB 1166) to include a total of eight community college districts and four public baccalaureate institutions.
SSEH Pilot is building support systems for students facing homelessness in twelve public institutions:
- Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University, Washington State University, and The Evergreen State College
- Edmonds College, South Puget Sound Community College, Walla Walla Community College, Yakima Valley College, Clark College, Lower Columbia College, Highline College and Wenatchee Valley College
For information about the SSEH pilot, see this information sheet.
Homelessness Learning Community and Pilot Program
WSAC and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges are co-organizing the Supports for Students Experiencing Homelessness Learning Community.
The learning community began in February 2020 with institutions piloting the Supports for Students Experiencing Homelessness program (2SSB 5800). It convenes learning and discussion opportunities for colleges and partners on how to improve supports for students experiencing homelessness.
Join us in learning about Supports for Students Experiencing Homelessness. Recent and upcoming Learning Community webinars are listed in the blue “Resources” box on this page.
We invite all interested institutions (including those that aren’t receiving pilot funds from 5800) to participate in learning community webinars and convenings. For more information on upcoming events and participation opportunities, contact Ami Magisos, AmiM@wsac.wa.gov.
Learning Community Resources
WSAC is working with partners, including DSHS, SBCTC, Anti-Hunger and Nutrition Coalition and Northwest Harvest, on strategies to increase postsecondary students’ access to food assistance.
- EBT on Campus Webinar: DSHS experts described the application process to offer SNAP EBT on campus. (Recording) (Presentation)
- Messaging Toolkit: United Way of King County offers marketing tools for colleges, a website, and a hotline to assist with applications. For more information, contact Nelly Evans, email@example.com.
- Food Security in Washington Webinar: WSAC and partners hosted a webinar exploring postsecondary food insecurity in Washington. Highlights included strategies and tools to support students. See the recording in the webinars box on this page.
- Food Insecurity: Better information Could Help Eligible College Students Access Federal Food Assistance Benefits. (GAO)
- SNAP and Students: Food Assistance Can Support College Success (CLASP)
- Frequently Asked Questions about SNAP and Students (CLASP)
- College and University Food Bank Alliance
Advisory Group: Supports for Basic Needs
WSAC convenes an advisory group to engage stakeholders on supports for postsecondary students’ basic needs. The goals are to identify barriers, spotlight strong practices and effective partnerships, and provide a cross-sector networking opportunity. It is an informal group open to stakeholders with expertise in student supports.
For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Meeting on December 8, 2021: Recording and Passcode v#zs1!0b
Cross-sector leaders will:
- Learn about Washington’s postsecondary basic needs vision and action agenda and 2022 legislative proposals.
- Explore common ground across policy proposals for postsecondary basic needs support and share your feedback.
- Identify ways to work together across sectors to advance basic needs supports.
Archived meeting materials
May 20, 2021
- Description: A panel described advocacy for postsecondary basic needs in the 2021 legislative session: Joel Ryan, ECEAP; Jude Ahmed, Washington Student Association; Charles Adkins, Everett ReThink Housing Committee; Jamie Traugott, State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. College students and leaders engaged with agency and non-profit leaders to give feedback on the new Washington Vision and Action Agenda draft developed by a statewide task force in spring 2021.
October 15, 2020
- Description: A policy-maker panel included Representative Barbara Entenman, Senator Emily Randall, Senator Claire Wilson, and Bryce McKibben of U.S. Senator Patty Murray’s office. College students and leaders engaged with agency and non-profit leaders to examine barriers and opportunities to address students’ basic needs.
2019 Pave the Way Conference
- Postsecondary Food Security Panel: How can we make a difference in Washington?
- Blueprints for Partnering to House Homeless College Students
(Tacoma Housing Authority presentation)
- Panel on Postsecondary Housing Insecurity and Homelessness in Washington: Research, Advocacy and Action
- Understanding Housing and Food Insecurity Among University of Washington Students
Learn about policy and research on supporting students’ basic needs:
- Hope Center for College, Community and Justice offers research, reports and guides on postsecondary basic needs insecurity and strategies, including the Guide to Assessing Basic Needs Insecurity in Higher Education
- 2019 #RealCollege Survey shows prevalence of unmet needs in Washington’s community and technical colleges with 28 of 34 institutions participating.
- Homelessness Research Initiative, University of Washington reported on robust 2019 multi-campus research of the prevalence of undergraduate and graduate students’ basic needs.
- SchoolHouse Connection, a national non-profit focused on homelessness and education, provides postsecondary research and data, law and policy information, and practical resources including tip sheets and webinars.
- Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), a national non-profit focused on policy solutions for low-income people, offers publications and advocacy on systemic approaches to meeting students' basic needs including postsecondary education and public benefits.
- Working Students Success Network, a project of the national community college network Achieving the Dream, has four participating colleges in Washington. The student-centered design approach guides colleges in better integrating their student support and case management models and leading change for cross-campus engagement.
Assistance for Postsecondary Students (2S HB 1893)
WSAC partnered with Department of Social and Human Services and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges to expand postsecondary student access to:
- Basic Food assistance (also known as SNAP)
- Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT)
The legislation also established an emergency assistance grant pilot in community and technical colleges.
Supports for Students Experiencing Homelessness (2SSB 5800)
This legislation established a pilot program beginning in the 2019-20 academic year to address the needs of college students experiencing homelessness or who “aged out” of foster care. It supports participation of four community and technical college districts and two public baccalaureate institutions across the state.
Pilot schools include:
- Eastern Washington University
- Edmonds College
- South Puget Sound Community College
- Walla Walla Community College
- Western Washington University
- Yakima Valley College
Bridge to Finish Initiative, United Way of King County provides a powerful model of non-profit partnership with nine community colleges in King County to support basic needs of students through Benefits Hubs.
College Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) is a nationally renowned partnership to provide housing to college students in Tacoma through a collaboration of Tacoma Housing Authority, University of Washington-Tacoma, and Tacoma Community College.
Student Policy Consultants
Student Policy Consultants in 2021 will co-design and co-lead WSAC’s priority postsecondary basic needs initiatives in 2021. They will work with WSAC staff, postsecondary and community partners to advance:
- Development of a statewide vision and action agenda on postsecondary basic needs through convening an Advisory Taskforce
- Development of statewide postsecondary information on unmet basic needs prevalence through convening an Assessment Workgroup
- Student advocacy efforts in coordination with the Washington Student Association and other partners, with a focus on underrepresented students
- Communication strategies on postsecondary basic needs
- Learning opportunities focused on student advocacy and leadership for basic needs.
Learn more about our incredible student consultant team.
Suicide Prevention Grant
The Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) administered a partnership grant program that helps resource-challenged postsecondary education institutions create partnerships with health care entities to develop student suicide prevention programs.
Senate Bill 6514 authorized the program, which awarded grants to the following postsecondary education institutions in 2019. The final institutional reports are listed below:
- Central Washington University
- Divers Institute of Technology
- Everett Community College
- Grays Harbor College
- Heritage University
- Lake Washington Institute of Technology
- Spokane Community College
- Washington State University