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.
- Homelessness Learning Community
- Food security
- Advisory group on supports for basic needs
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.
- Messaging Toolkit: WSAC and partners are developing a Food Messaging toolkit for colleges to use to inform students about food assistance opportunities.
- Webinar: WSAC and partners will host a webinar exploring postsecondary food insecurity in Washington. Highlights include strategies and tools to support students. For more information contact Ami Magisos, AmiM@wsac.wa.gov. Date: June 23, 10-11:30am
- 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 and public benefits.
Next meeting: October 15, 9am – 12pm, 2020. A policy-maker panel will include Representative Barbara Entenman, Senator Emily Randall, and Bryce McKibben of U.S. Senator Patty Murray’s office. College students and leaders will engage with agency and non-profit leaders to examine barriers and opportunities to address students’ basic needs. Stay tuned for more information!
Archived meeting materials
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.