Working Students Success Network Feeds Families

North Arkansas College, one of 19 colleges in Achieving the Dream’s Working Student Success Network (WSSN), is offering all students the opportunity to supplement their families’ food supply by visiting Pete’s Pantry, an on-campus food bank. Using WSSN funds, the college launched the pantry this fall to help students who face conflicts between focusing on coursework and providing meals for their families. The WSSN encourages student success by taking into account family and work responsibilities, financial needs beyond tuition, and the financial knowledge students need to sustain the other aspects of their lives.

More than half of North Arkansas College’s student population is eligible for Pell grants, and the college realized that food insecurity was affecting students’ ability to be successful and couldn’t be ignored. Students can shop twice a month at Pete’s Pantry, where items are priced using a point system. Every North Arkansas College student and every member of a student’s family is allocated points to spend.

The WSSN initiative, an affiliate of the Working Families Success Network, is a partnership of national foundations, community colleges, state partners, and community-based organizations. The overarching WSSN strategy is to provide students with a coordinated set of complementary supports and services in three key areas:

  • Education and employment advancement. WSSN helps students develop and implement an achievable career plan. It works with institutions to bolster career counseling, develop training on specific skills for targeted industries or occupations, and strengthen other career services.
  • Income and work supports. WSSN ensures that students can tap into all the available resources that will help to stabilize them and their families while they are working and pursuing further education. WSSN can help students to pull together the pieces—such as childcare, transportation, housing—that make a big difference in whether working students actually attain the credentials they seek.
  • Financial services and asset building. WSSN offers training, information and tools for students to make informed choices about budgeting and use of financial products. It helps colleges partner with local financial institutions and provides intensive financial coaching. It even helps students build assets through special savings accounts, often supported with matching funds, with support from the financial institutions.

Nineteen community colleges are implementing WSSN in Arkansas, California, Virginia, and Washington state. The effort is funded by major national foundations, including Annie E. Casey, Bank of America, W.K. Kellogg, Kresge, Lumina, and MetLife.

The focus on integrated, non-academic supports is beginning to strengthen academic success and campus culture. Campus leaders working with WSSN say this work helps:

  • Increase retention and completion rates by addressing crucial barriers to completion, such as family needs for food, shelter, childcare, and other essentials.
  • Address related federal and state priorities, such as graduates’ need for jobs that pay family-sustaining wages.
  • Strengthen student tracking and monitoring systems to ensure that no student falls through the cracks, which will further enable colleges to assess which combination of services yields the best outcomes for students on their campus.
  • Transform the campus culture by involving and training faculty, staff, and service providers and making supports for success a regular theme of student life.
  • Build community infrastructure by connecting students to good jobs that match their career and learning goals and by improving the accessibility of valued community supports to a broader segment of the community.

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