Basic Needs Initiative

Supporting the Whole Student by Fulfilling Basic Needs

Access to basic needs, such as food, housing, childcare, mental health, financial assistance and transportation, is critical for ensuring strong academic performance, increasing persistence and graduation, and improving wellbeing among students enrolled in postsecondary education.

ECMC Foundation created the Basic Needs Initiative (BNI) in response to research from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice (Hope Center), California State University, MDRC and the National Bureau of Economic Research, among others, which found that basic needs insecurity is prevalent at both two- and four-year campuses, impacting students' persistence and graduation outcomes. One national survey found that 45% of students had been food insecure in the past 30 days and 56% had been housing insecure in the previous year, while 17% had been homeless.

As the first national postsecondary education funder with a designated grantee cohort addressing basic needs among college students, ECMC Foundation made $3.1 million in grants to seven organizations and institutions working with over 70 two- and four-year partner institutions. During the three-year initiative, the cohort of grantees—consisting of postsecondary institutions, community-based organizations and research teams—are undertaking a wide array of projects, including launching new initiatives, scaling existing evidence-based programs and conducting research studies, to further the field's knowledge of supporting students' basic needs.

In addition to supporting programs, collaborations and research, the BNI provides grantees with a learning cohort to encourage widespread adoption and advancement of best practices in addressing basic needs. Using its lessons learned from the BNI cohort, ECMC Foundation's goal is to develop and share scalable practices that best address the issue of basic needs insecurity.

Read the Initial Evaluation Findings

To learn more about the progress of the Basic Needs Initiative, read Education Northwest's initial evaluation findings on the first year of the cohort's work.

Basic Needs Initiative Grantee Cohort

Through the BNI, ECMC Foundation made $3.1 million in grants to the following seven organizations and institutions working with two- and four-year campuses to improve student access to basic needs.

Note: As of fall 2020, five of the seven grantees are working with 76 partner institutions to support the implementation of basic needs services. Ithaka S+R is not working directly with postsecondary institutions, and University of Tennessee at Knoxville will select their institutions in Spring 2021.

Arkansas Community Colleges (ACC)—Basic Needs for Community College Completion
ACC is scaling its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach model across Arkansas' 22 community colleges. The goal is to enroll more students in SNAP and other public benefits across the system and to determine the impact of campus food pantry services, with each campus then continuing these support efforts.

Auburn University Foundation—Campus Food Insecurity Initiative
Auburn University is piloting and scaling an approach using direct student supports to address food insecurity at 10 partner four-year universities in Alabama. Auburn and the 10 campuses also will work to expand Alabama Campus Coalition's food insecurity activities to additional schools in the state.

Ithaka S+R—Basic Needs for Community College Completion
Ithaka S+R is researching, designing and reporting on measures for student success. In addition to institutions' more traditional success metrics, these measures will include students' basic needs and definitions of success. The goal is to raise awareness of holistic student needs, develop new success metrics and produce recommendations regarding these insights. Read Ithaka S+R's reports, Measuring the Whole Student and Moving the Needle on College Student Basic Needs

John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY)—California Student Homelessness Project
JBAY is providing technical assistance in using state funding to help students experiencing homelessness transition into stable housing. The work targets the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges systems. JBAY aims to reduce the number of California college students who experience homelessness, enhancing academic success among the most vulnerable and underserved populations. Read JBAY's report, Equity Made Real: Promising Strategies for Addressing College Student Basic Needs

Michigan Community College Association (MCCA)—Financial Stability for Student Success
MCCA is launching its Michigan Building Economic Stability Today initiative. The program addresses the lack of strategies focused on non-academic barriers to student success across 26 MCCA campuses. MCAA hopes to leverage partnerships to assist students in meeting basic needs.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK)—Linking Basic Needs Initiatives
UTK is building a statewide network of Texas Hispanic-serving institutions to advance evidence-based basic needs initiatives. The goal is to guide each institution to develop its own basic needs and student success assessments.

United Way of King County (UWKC)—Bridge to Finish
Seattle-based UWKC is expanding the Bridge to Finish program, which helps students persist to obtain college credentials by connecting them to basic needs supports and financial education. The organization hopes to provide support for students and to work toward policy changes that will advance equity in college success.

Visit our Research from the Field page to see all ECMC Foundation-funded research.


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