How Community Colleges Can Meet Students’ Basic Needs

By Lauren Walizer

For several years CLASP has highlighted the importance of meeting adult students’ basic needs and retooling policies and practices to improve the connections between postsecondary enrollment and public benefits programs. We are currently providing technical assistance to Colorado, Louisiana, and Rhode Island on policies that remove restrictions to programs that meet such basic needs as nutrition and child care. During our visits to these states, we’ve met with several community colleges and learned how they’re supporting students’ basic needs. In recognition of Community College Month, we’re sharing some of these practices in the hopes that other colleges will consider following their examples.

The Community College of Aurora in the Denver area serves a significant number of immigrant students. The college participates in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Strengthening Working Families Initiative (SWFI) initiative, which connects low-income student-parents to child care and other services. The college is hoping to expand on this work by becoming a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment and Training provider. Each semester, the college points its students to a web page with information about SNAP and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and offers a single point of contact at the college to provide support on these programs. Aurora was recently awarded the American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) Advancing Diversity award for its work to create a more inclusive environment and hire more faculty of color, among other efforts.

Delgado Community College in New Orleans has a long-term commitment to connecting students to benefits through its partnership with Single Stop. The college’s engaged and dedicated staff helps students navigate the lengthy application process for public benefits, troubleshoot problems, and communicate with the benefits office if English is not their first language. The administration offers legal services on campus and provides canned and fresh foods and essentials for students through the Care Corner food pantry. Delgado is also actively expanding its services by adding a behavioral health center for students and staff, which it created through a partnership with the Daughters of Charity Services of New Orleans. The college secured funding through a competitive grant program to participate in the Single Moms Success Design Challenge that helps improve degree attainment among single mothers. Delgado also runs an on-site child care facility to help meet the needs of student-parents.

The Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) is running the state’s free college program, which provides free tuition for low-income students matriculating directly from high school. The program, in operation since 2017, has led to a significant increase in the proportion of low-income students and students of color at CCRI. The college recently opened a food pantry for students on its Flanagan campus that also delivers to the college’s other campuses. CCRI has a single contact that helps students with non-academic barriers to success. Finally, the state’s Department of Human Services partners with CCRI to administer the REACH program that provides education and training to people with low incomes who participate in the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

For Community College Month—and every month—colleges across the country should learn from and adapt the successes these three institutions have achieved in meeting the needs of students with low incomes.