Students hope and dream of a better future for themselves and their families; they depend on the promise that higher education will empower them to attain a better life. Students’ ability to support their basic needs and concurrently pursue a post-secondary education, however, has been adversely impacted by a gradual disinvestment in higher education. The true cost of college, including non-tuition costs, pushes students toward economic instability. Students are facing more financial emergencies than ever before, and institutions of higher education across the country are struggling to pivot to offer the help and support that students need. 

In response to this crisis, the Michelson 20MM Foundation is working to increase persistence and graduation rates through our newly launched Student Basic Needs initiative. Given the severity of this crisis and the need for immediate relief, we invited organizations to apply for Michelson Spark Grants, which is our rapid grantmaking process aimed at quickly infusing resources into highly impactful initiatives that would otherwise go unfunded through a traditional, lengthy timeline. 

This initial Spark Grant round yielded thirty letters of inquiry, ten of whom were invited to submit full proposals. Please join us in celebrating the five Michelson 20MM Student Basic Needs Spark Grantees and their projects:

California State University, Long Beach

A key demographic among California State University, Long Beach (CSULB’s) student body is pregnant and parenting students. Sadly, pregnant and parenting students are often unaware of the aid and support available to them. Knowing this, CSULB is further investing in ensuring their campus is family-friendly by conducting a landscape analysis, compiling best practices, developing a training program for allies, and sharing their findings with the Chancellor’s Office for further implementation. Read more about CSULB’s Spark Grant.

The Institute for College Access and Success

The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) is an independent, non-profit research organization that seeks to improve affordability, accountability, and equity in higher education. By engaging California college students via surveys, TICAS will analyze the college affordability challenges students are currently facing with an emphasis on the impact of COVID-19. The findings will be used to support change-makers and stakeholders as they seek to improve college affordability. Read more about TICAS’ Spark Grant.

Southern California College Access Network 

The Southern California College Access Network (SoCal CAN) and its alliance of 100 organizations promote a college-going and completing culture in California. Through a Spark Grant, SoCal CAN will create a student-led Let’s Go to College CA education and awareness campaign. Focusing on student basic needs and the non-tuition costs of college, SoCal CAN’s five paid fellows will raise awareness regarding SNAP benefits and other resources available to students. Read more about SoCal CAN’s Spark Grant

Foundation for California Community Colleges

The Foundation for California Community Colleges (FCCC) supports the largest system of higher education in the nation: the California Community College System, which serves 2.1 million students. In the coming year, FCCC will examine the statewide and national landscape of public benefits resources for students, particularly programs that can help to mitigate student basic needs, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The research will lay the foundation for the policy discussions and recommendations of a new state-wide task force spearheaded by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office. This task force will convene leaders from multiple state agencies that offer services and programs to streamline their processes to better meet students’ basic needs. Ultimately, the landscape analysis and task force will identify best practices and model solutions related to helping students access public benefits. Read more about FCCC’s Spark Grant.

John Burton Advocates for Youth

John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) seeks to improve the quality of life for youth in California who have been in foster care or homeless. Emphasizing the need to establish a permanent funding source for basic needs centers at community colleges and CSU campuses, JBAY will conduct an awareness campaign alongside a coalition of stakeholders and allies across the state. Read more about JBAY’s Spark Grant.

Michelson 20MM’s Student Basic Needs Initiative

These five partners join our grantees, Swipe Out Hunger and Believe in Students. Swipe Out Hunger is leveraging its network of students and administrators to help create effective systems for disbursing and publicizing federal emergency aid to students across its member campuses. They are developing digital training tools and strategies to ensure responsive, transparent, and equitable distribution of funds. Swipe Out Hunger is also consulting with school administrators on the design of emergency aid programs. Similarly, Believe in Students and their partner, the Hope Center for College Community and Justice, is providing technical assistance to institutions, state, and federal governments to advance a comprehensive set of policies for low-income students’ success that includes students’ access to public benefits like SNAP and increased access to emergency aid. Believe in Students and The Hope Center are concurrently identifying state policies in California that can increase post-secondary educational affordability and remove barriers to access for students.

In addition to our grantees, the Michelson Impact Ventures portfolio includes an innovative approach to emergency student aid management and distribution: Edquity. The first evidence-based and research-informed emergency aid application, Edquity uses an algorithm to eliminate implicit bias, help students apply for emergency aid in minutes, approve applications within hours, and deliver aid to students in need within 24 hours. The app also features a Yelp-like component that identifies off-campus and on-campus resources available to students, providing a one-stop digital shop for emergency support resources. A recent partnership with the Foundation for California Community Colleges vetted Edquity, making it available for community colleges to implement on their campuses.

Over the coming week, we look forward to sharing a series of blogs highlighting each of our recent grantees and the important work they are doing. 

The Michelson 20MM Foundation is dedicated to supporting and investing in leading organizations, technologies, and initiatives that seek to transform learning and improve access to educational opportunities that lead to a meaningful career. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon and inventor Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson. Visit us at