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 pilot
- Postsecondary basic needs learning community
- Food Security
- Postsecondary Basic Needs advisory group
Basic Needs Survey
Basic Needs Survey
What’s the prevalence of unmet basic needs in Washington?
In Fall 2022, 39 Washington colleges and universities participated in the first state-wide basic needs security survey, administered by Western Washington University in partnership with Washington Student Achievement Council.
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.
This survey and report are made possible through the 2021 Basic Needs Data Work Group, which proposed 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 built consensus that critical basic needs data can drive change in institutions, regions, and the state. They developed a data collection instrument and an implementation proposal that built on current campus assessment efforts as well as national best practices.
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. The pilot was expanded in a 2022 budget proviso to include all public community college districts and baccalaureates.
For information about the SSEH pilot, see this information sheet.
For more information about the pilot, contact Ami Magisos (email@example.com).
For more information about this issue see Expanding Access to Housing Support Resources for Postsecondary Students Experiencing Homelessness in Washington.
Postsecondary Basic Needs Learning Community
WSAC, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and the United Way of King County are co-organizing the Postsecondary Basic Needs Learning Community.
The learning community began in February 2020 and it convenes learning and discussion opportunities for colleges and partners on how to improve supports for students with basic needs insecurity.
Join us in learning about Supports for Students. Recent and upcoming Learning Community webinars are listed in the blue “Resources” box on this page.
For more information on upcoming events and participation opportunities, contact Ami Magisos at 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 Sara Seelmeyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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
WSAC Convenings on Postsecondary Basic Needs
WSAC convenes 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.
For more information: email@example.com
Convening on January 5, 2023: Recording and Passcode +QU1@j^.
Cross-sector leaders learned about
- Urgent new info on the prevalence of basic needs insecurity among Washington college students: Among nearly 10,000 students participating in a fall survey, nearly 1 in 2 have experienced basic needs insecurity in WA colleges and universities, with more than 1 in 10 experiencing homelessness in the past year.
- Insights and action priorities from Rep. Vandana Slatter (Chair, House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Committee), student experts Madeline Sprute and Adán Mendoza (Washington Student Association), Christina Wong (Northwest Harvest), and Dr. Brad Baranowski (Grays Harbor College).
- Proposals for change in 2023 and beyond: Increased coordination and services, including all postsecondary student in current strategies, and proactive and emergency funds for basic needs.
Archived meeting materials
December 8, 2021
- Description: Participants discussed Washington’s postsecondary basic needs vision and action agenda, and 2022 legislative proposals. Participants learned about the new Postsecondary Basic Needs Coalition that launched in January 2022.
- Recording and Passcode v#zs1!0b
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.
2022 Policy Updates
2022 Policy Updates
The state has made modest, limited investments in the four-year and two-year public institutions to address costs beyond tuition and fees.
- The Student Emergency Assistance Grant program distributes funding to community and technical colleges to help students cover emergency expenses.
- The state has supported the needs of college students experiencing homelessness and those who aged out of foster care in four-year public and two-year public institutions. A 2022 investment expands the pilot to all public community and technical colleges and baccalaureates.
- The state has supported pilot programs to address suicide prevention (2017) and mental healthcare access at four community and technical colleges (2021-23). A 2022 proviso invests in a study of student health care and insurance access, as well as a small pilot for health insurance navigation.
- The state has increased some access to childcare subsidies for community and technical college students (2021).
- Most public and private institutions provide some form of access to basic needs for students:
- Emergency grants to cover one-time needs like rental assistance.
- On-campus food pantry or partnership with local food bank.
- Innovative partnerships between local housing authorities or developers with institutions.
- Case management and integrated teams provide navigation and wrap-around supports for basic needs and mental/behavioral health.
- Childcare centers provide early education and child care for enrolled postsecondary students.
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: