‘Basic Needs Summit’ Addresses Barriers to Student Success Events

May 21, 2018
Basis Needs Summit planning group

Tuition and textbooks have long dominated the discussion around financially strapped college students, but the most pressing areas of need are actually far more basic.

These overlooked needs, like food, shelter and health services, were the focus of April’s California Community Colleges Basic Needs Summit, co-produced by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and the Foundation for California Community Colleges. The two-day event, hosted in Sacramento, connected system stakeholders and experts in diverse areas such as financial aid, housing, mental health and education policy, for an intensive and interactive meta-discussion.

“The [Summit] focused on tangible strategies that are currently employed at various colleges in California, and also across the country,” said California Community Colleges mental health specialist Colleen Ganley, who helped organize the activity. “It was a very successful event.”

image of Chancellor Oakley

The Summit was partially inspired by a Fall 2017 Chancellor’s Office survey of California community colleges, which yielded eye-opening data on the prevalence of basic needs insecurity within the system. The event was headlined by impassioned keynotes from California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Oakley and Temple University professor, activist and higher education “rock star” Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab. Both speakers stressed the importance of unflinching engagement with issues like student hunger, homelessness and transportation in a system that powers so many aspects of California communities.

“Dr. Goldrick-Rab has a deep understanding of the true impact that poverty has on students and their ability to succeed in college,” Ganley said about the opening keynote speaker. “She is an incredible researcher and communicator who continues to have a profound impact on students and the thousands of practitioners, across the country, working to support the basic needs of students.”

image of Chancellor Oakley

More than a third of U.S. community college students struggle with non-academic barriers like food insecurity or lack of basic health and mental health services, while 14 percent are homeless, according to a recent University of Wisconsin study. While national movements toward establishing campus food pantries and improving coordination of basic needs services have burgeoned in the past few years, new data – like those uncovered in the UW study – are highlighting the need for more funding, support and resources.

Ganley says that “lots of research, both in California and across the country, are providing insight into how significant a problem unmet basic needs are for students.” According to Ganley, this always-present issue has been exacerbated by increases in the higher education costs in California, and the higher cost of living, in general.

Hence, the crucial role of events like the Basic Needs Summit in addressing those issues.

“The purpose was for California Community Colleges faculty, staff and administrators to come together to share and learn about strategies and best practices when trying to support the basic needs of their students,” said Ganley.