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Our Strategy: Student Supports

Washington’s college students have urgent and unmet basic needs 

Basic needs insecurity—which encompasses a lack of access to affordable housing, food, healthcare, and childcare—is a critical barrier that can undermine persistence and completion rates for postsecondary students. The urgent impacts of the recent pandemic and economic crises have shone a light on postsecondary students’ basic needs insecurity, but this is a long-term and persistent challenge. 

Despite Washington’s strong state financial assistance programs, there is still often a gap for students with low incomes between financial aid amounts and their actual costs for foundational needs, above and beyond tuition. These pressures are exacerbated by inflation and rising rents across the state. While decades ago, some students may have been able to cover costs through employment earnings, national data shows that even students working part- or full-time are not insulated from basic needs insecurity.

In Washington, we now know that basic needs insecurity is not just a challenge for a small percentage of students. According to 2022 Washington survey data, students struggling with housing and food stability were common among survey respondents: 

  • 4 in 10 had experienced food insecurity in the prior 30 days. 
  • 3 in 10 had experienced housing insecurity in the prior year. 
  • 1 in 10 had experienced homelessness in the prior year.

Students from families with low-income, students who experienced foster care, first-generation students, and students of color have faced even higher percentages of basic needs insecurity.  

WSAC’s strategic challenge 

WSAC’s role is to support postsecondary institutions and catalyze partnerships toward comprehensive and coordinated supports for students' basic needs.

  • 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.

Get involved

WSAC is working with partners on and off campuses to learn about and strengthen supports for students. 

  • Basic Needs Navigation
  • Basic Needs Strategic Planning
  • Washington Basic Needs Survey
  • Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness
  • Basic Needs Learning Community
  • Food Security Pilot
  • Postsecondary Basic Needs Convenings
  • Health-Related Grants



All public postsecondary institutions are required to have a Benefits Navigator with the 2023 Washington’s Postsecondary Basic Needs Act (Second Substitute House Bill 1559).

Navigation staff can participate in a statewide network of peers for training, practice sharing, and recommendations development.

Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning

With the 2023 Washington’s Postsecondary Basic Needs Act (Second Substitute House Bill 1559), all public postsecondary institutions are required to create a Hunger Free and Basic Needs Strategic Plan. Institutions will provide a joint report to the Legislature on the outcomes of their planned activities in 2025.

Institutional leads preparing their basic needs strategic plans can access resources and templates to build their plans, as well as recordings from a 2023 Learning Community focusing on plan development.

Basic Needs Survey

Basic Needs Survey

What’s the prevalence of unmet basic needs in Washington?

In Fall 2024, all public postsecondary institutions will participate in a census survey assessing the prevalence of students’ basic needs insecurity and use of campus and community resources. Additional institutions are welcome to participate in the survey. This survey is required in the Postsecondary Basic Needs Act (2SHB 1559 2023), and builds on the 2022 survey initiative. For more information, contact Ami Magisos:

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.

Read the Executive Summary and Report.

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. 

Homelessness Grant

Homelessness Grant

Washington’s Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness (SSEH) Pilot was enacted in 2019 legislation (2SSB 5800). It was made permanent in 2023 and expanded to include all public community colleges and baccalaureate institutions. The grant program is administered by the Washington Student Achievement Council and Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

For information about the SSEH, see this 2023 Executive Summary and Report.

For more information, contact Ami Magisos (

For more information about this issue see Expanding Access to Housing Support Resources for Postsecondary Students Experiencing Homelessness in Washington.

Learning Community

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

Learning Community Resources

Food Security Pilot

Food Security Pilot

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.


To develop and learn from proactive approaches to address food insecurity among postsecondary student populations, the 2023 Washington State Legislature passed into law Second Substitute House Bill 1559 (2023). This legislation includes a new three-year pilot to provide free and low-cost meal plans or food vouchers to eligible low-income students.

Six institutions were selected to participate: Washington State University, Columbia Basin College, and Walla Walla Community College on the Eastside of the state; and Western Washington University, Everett Community College, and Grays Harbor College on the West side. Each pilot institution has a unique pilot project designed to increase students’ access to food through proactive approaches.  


  • 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
  • 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.



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:

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.
  • Presentation

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.
  • Agenda
  • Recording

2019 Pave the Way Conference

July 2019

Health-Related Grants

Health-Related Grants

Contraception Vending Machine Grant 

This grant cycle is closed for FY 2024, but WSAC expects to reopen granting in FY 2025. 

See grant application guidance. For additional support, see our informational webinar (Passcode: 4kJdm9.e), slides, and resource folder.

Health Insurance Navigation Pilot

Medical bills can destabilize postsecondary students’ ability to persist and complete their educational goals. A pilot program to support increased student awareness and enrollment in healthcare insurance was funded for four higher education institutions in the budget for Fiscal Years 2023 and 2024. Pilot institutions implemented strategies for student outreach and assistance toward increased health insurance access and coverage in collaboration with Washington’s Health Benefit Exchange.

For more information about the pilot, contact Ami Magisos, Associate Director,

Archived resources

Student Consultants

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.  

Completed Projects

Senate Bill 6514 authorized the program, which awarded grants to the following postsecondary education institutions in 2019. The final institutional reports are listed below: