Photo: Dianne Avery Photography/Getty Images, courtesy of Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation


Even before the onset of the global pandemic, college life was a struggle for many students looking to make ends meet while getting their education. To those unfamiliar with the profile of today’s college students, it might come as a surprise to learn that a 2019 Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice survey found that 45% of students at two and four-year U.S. universities were food insecure, even though 61% held jobs. Additionally, 56% of students reported facing housing insecurity, and 17% of respondents were homeless. The pandemic and ensuing economic disruption have made financial situations even more precarious for college students, particularly those from minority, low-income, and first-generation backgrounds. 

At Michelson 20MM, we’ve made addressing college affordability and student basic needs two of our core tenets as we endeavor to increase access to higher education. Recently, we provided Michelson Spark Grants to Swipe Out Hunger and Edquity, backing efforts to better disburse the $6 billion in direct financial aid payments to students that Congress allocated through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. And we’re proud to announce that we’ve also awarded a Michelson Spark Grant to the Hope Center for College Community and Justice and its partner Believe in Students to support ongoing educational awareness at the legislative level to advance recommendations for social safety net programs for our college students.

Founded by Temple University Professor of Sociology and Medicine Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, the Hope Center is home to an action research team committed to addressing student basic needs including food, affordable housing, transportation, childcare, and mental health treatment. The research conducted by Dr. Goldrick-Rab and her team helps in developing and implementing best practices, public policy, and communication that support today’s real college students. Believe in Students is a nonprofit organization that addresses students’ living expenses, in part by partnering with the Hope Center on its policy work.

We are thrilled to back the Hope Center and Believe in Students in their legislative educational outreach and policy efforts, specifically, their work around increasing access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and emergency aid for college students. As part of this partnership, they will provide technical assistance to institutions, state, and federal governments to streamline the often byzantine application processes involved in applying for SNAP benefits (food stamps) and emergency aid. These critical assistance programs help students stay fed or meet an unexpected financial emergency (usually of $500 or less), and can mean the difference between a student staying enrolled in college or having to drop out. 

“Today’s college students have enormous potential, and with stronger support from state and federal policies they will succeed in transforming the lives of their families and communities,” said Dr. Goldrick-Rab. “We appreciate the support from Michelson 20MM for this effort to advance systemic change.”

The current health and economic crises have the potential to stop low-income college students from completing their academic studies. Fortunately, there are resources available that to help keep them enrolled and working toward obtaining their diploma. This effort will help further ensure colleges and universities have the resources they need to continue growing the availability of programs that address our students most immediate needs. 

A future Spark Grants funding round focused on the issues of college affordability and student basic needs will be launched in October. To learn more please visit our webpage or sign up for notifications using the form below.