Emergency Aid Isn’t a Luxury 

The need to provide emergency student aid to college students has never been more apparent. A  recent survey of nearly 900 California college students conducted by the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) highlighted student’s struggles with decreasing income, increasing expenses, increased food insecurity, and delays to degree completion. Another  survey from the California Student Aid Commission found worse results around loss of income, student’s challenges with housing insecurity and the impact these challenges had on student persistence. 

To address the myriad of challenges faced by students and uplift the role that emergency aid plays in helping students navigate these challenges, the Michelson 20MM Foundation has awarded a Spark Grant to Higher Learning Advocates (HLA). Through their Spark Grant, HLA will deploy the #EmergenCAid digital awareness campaign to amplify the financial emergencies California students have and to connect students to their legislative delegation in Washington DC to educate lawmakers on the need for a permanent student emergency aid solution. 

The Today’s Students Coalition

The #EmergenCAid campaign will run through HLA’s Today’s Students Coalition, a cross-cutting group of policy, advocacy, and membership organizations that have joined forces to push for urgently needed policy changes to better serve today’s students. The Coalition is forging new consensus across a diverse group of organizations focused on the needs of working adults, parent learners, veterans, and first-generation students. It will advance policy recommendations that break down barriers and ensure valuable postsecondary credentials for today’s students by creating a drumbeat of support for bipartisan policy change with a broad constituency that includes and centers on today’s students and serves as a resource for policymakers looking for information and ideas to improve the postsecondary landscape for today’s students.

HLA’s Today’s Students Coalition (TSC), is made up of a growing list of organizations at the forefront of forward-thinking policies and practices who support the modernization of higher education to be more responsive to student’s needs. TSC’s membership comprises 33 advocacy, student, and membership organizations.ts California membership includes: Jobs for the Future, Swipe Out Hunger, and the UC Student Association.


HLA’s EmergenCAid campaign will center around three pillars of work: student stories, a social media campaign, and a phone2Action campaign. 

It remains critical that members of Congress hear from the higher education consumers—students—on these topics for policy change to happen. Knowing that, TSC will invite students from California’s higher education systems to share their experiences with receiving emergency financial aid during the pandemic. Furthermore, HLA will produce three videos to shine a light on the challenges students have faced and to highlight how financial support helped them overcome barriers so that they could persist in education.

Via its social media campaign, TSC will feature California-specific emergency aid content across all of its platforms. The campaign will share student stories, raise public awareness, and create a drumbeat of support for emergency aid policy solutions. To do so, using the hashtag #EmergenCAid, TSC and its members will share graphics, GIFs, videos, and information with their vast and engaged audiences.

Finally, TSC’s Phone2Action tool will allow California students to directly contact their members of Congress through a quick and easy-to-use form. The pre-written letter will call on policymakers to create a robust and thoughtful emergency aid program designed to help students facing emergencies remain enrolled. Phone2Action will provide CA students with the opportunity to advocate for all of today’s students by the click of a button.

The Need to Make Emergency Aid Permanent

When the pandemic led to rapid campus closures, many students were forced to make emergency financial decisions as they found themselves without access to child care centers, dorms, libraries, and other facilities. While emergency aid established under the Department of Education’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund was a good start, emergencies happened before the pandemic and will continue to occur in the future. Today’s students need permanent solutions to unexpected financial barriers that keep them from persisting in their postsecondary programs.

We look forward to sharing additional blogs spotlighting each of our new Student Basic Needs grantees and the inspiring work they are leading. 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 is a private, nonprofit foundation seeking to accelerate progress towards a more just world through grantmaking, operating programs, and impact investing. Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.


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