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College affordability has been identified as a primary barrier to college completion for low-income students, exacerbated by the rise in unmet needs covered by financial aid. In fact, evidence suggests that financial aid can be influential in helping students to enroll in college, persist, and graduate.

California Community College (CCC) students have traditionally experienced a high rate of basic needs insecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges due to the ongoing economic and financial downturn, the loss of access to in-person services on campus, the growing digital divide, and the glaring disparities related to health care for many CCC students and their communities. In a survey of CCC students recently conducted by the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, respondents reported facing numerous basic needs challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including 40% reporting a loss of income. Other challenges faced are a loss of or inadequate healthcare; inability to pay mortgage, rent or utilities; and food insecurities. Adding to the crisis, access to basic needs resources through state agencies is complex and overly burdensome, which limits, hinders, and deters access. This, in turn, reinforces the stigmas often attributed to populations experiencing poverty and in need of assistance.

At the September 2020 California Community Colleges Board of Governors meeting, a Board Resolution Declaring Support for Student Basic Needs was passed, largely due to the increased challenges students face as they try to meet their basic needs. Through this action, the Board of Governors resolved the following:

  1. The Board of Governors is committed to dismantling the current structures that unduly burden students in need, limiting their access to critical basic resources; and
  2. The Chancellor’s Office will partner with the Governor and other state agencies to redesign existing state application and approval structures to put students at the center by streamlining access and receipt of statewide resources to meet basic needs.

With support from the Foundation for California Community Colleges (FCCC) Success Center and funded in part by a Michelson 20MM Foundation Spark Grant, Executive Vice Chancellor for Educational Services and Support Marty Alvarado will lead efforts to explore current challenges and barriers that prevent students from accessing the full range of available public benefits to which they are entitled to meet their basic needs.

The  findings from research funded by the grant will inform policy discussions and identify opportunities for multi-agency collaboration to streamline access to critical benefits. While there have been other efforts at an institutional or local level to make the application process for public benefits more streamlined for CCC students, none, to our knowledge, have focused on multiple benefits at the statewide level. Additionally, this project is part of a transformational and systemic change effort aimed at creating the infrastructure needed in the CCC system to better serve the diverse student population. This innovative effort will impact the entire CCC system, which serves 2.1 million students each year through 116 sites and seventy-three districts. More specifically, the team will focus on increasing student awareness, defining who CCC students are, and normalizing the role of public benefits as a core student support in the higher education space. One of the ultimate goals of this work is to develop a streamlined and student-centric process for students by developing a single comprehensive application that will enable students to apply for all eligible benefits at one time.

Findings and outcomes will be shared publicly as they become available over the coming year. To learn more about the Student Basic Needs crisis, we invite you to visit our YouTube channel, which features a webinar with the nation’s leading experts on the subject. 

Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon and inventor Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson. 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. Learn more at www.20mm.org.