Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) – including community/technical colleges and 4-year universities – focus on academic achievement and employment preparation of students through coursework, internships, and project-based learning. However, the success of students during college and when they enter the labor market depends increasingly on the non-academic supports colleges and universities provide, especially for students of color and for students from lower socioeconomic levels. For example, a recent GAO study of universities and community colleges found that benefits like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are critical supports for students since federal student aid generally does not cover all college expenses. Yet the report found that many colleges inadequately promoted programs such as SNAP and did not fully understand student eligibility rules.
This recent GAO study resonated with our implementation evaluation findings from the Working Students Success Network (WSSN). Between 2014-2017, DVP-PRAXIS LTD led an implementation study with support from Blueprint for Education and in collaboration with Mathematica Policy Research, to assess how non-academic, integrated support services can assist underserved students. Colleges participating in WSSN provided one-on-one coaching and enhanced group level classes, workshops, and other events in to provide:
employment and career advancement services;
income enhancements and work supports; and
financial and asset building services.
Our implementation study at these 19 WSSN community colleges documented specific types of organizational structures and services that helped to mitigate detrimental effects of poverty, food insecurity, and systemic racial inequities experienced by students. These structures and services were intended to help students succeed academically and graduate and be better prepared for career success. Two key findings from the evaluation are:
Inter-departmental collaboration and engaging strategic external partners are essential practices: Community colleges that were the most successful worked across departments and divisions (e.g., collaboration between Academics and Student Services; inter-departmental coordination on service delivery) and developed robust relationships with strategic partners on areas of need (e.g., local food pantries and housing non-profits, community-based organizations like United Way).
One-stop service centers in general, and campus food pantries in particular, should be located in high-visibility and easily accessible campus-based locations. By making these non-academic supports prominent, colleges demonstrate their commitment to students’ basic needs in general, and hunger in particular. In many cases, the food pantry served as a symbol for the importance of students’ basic needs to the college mission, and one-stop service centers allowed students to access multiple supports in one location. The latter proved important as students navigating multiple systems independently (e.g., SNAP, FAFSA applications, needs-based and academic scholarships) created barriers for students who needed multiple types of assistance.
The WSSN implementation study provides valuable examples of best practices for community colleges, and by extension four-year universities, to both assess the needs of their students and create support systems that improve academic and professional success. Supporting the basic needs of underserved students in IHEs helps enhance the investment of education while attending college, as well as future workforce participation and success.
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DVP-PRAXIS LTD is an action-oriented consulting firm focused on higher education and the workforce. We specialize in mixed-method formative and summative evaluation services to inform implementation and measure impact. Find us at www.dvp-praxis.org. Contact Derek directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.