#RealCollege Convening Links Student Success to Meeting Basic Needs

In a panel presentation at #RealCollege: A National Convening on Food and Housing Insecurity, ATD President and CEO Dr. Karen A. Stout and fellow panelists Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, President of Amarillo College, Cara Crowley, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Amarillo College, and Jee Hang Lee, Vice President for Public Policy and External Relations at the Association of Community College Trustees discussed the urgent need for institutions to develop strategies to meet students’ academic and basic needs. They shared approaches that colleges can take to change their services and how to reframe the way they think about them. Dr. Stout emphasized that the motivation for colleges to change should go beyond increasing completion to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty. "It’s not just the attainment of an associate degree – it’s about creating economic mobility,” she said. “If we re-frame the definition of our work, then our problem is not just structural. It’s cultural and social."

She described the overwhelming challenges community college students face: 60 percent work more than 20 hours a week, 33 percent have dependents to care for, 63 percent live paycheck to paycheck, and 13 percent were classified as “food insecure” in 2015 – and probably more. Dr. Stout characterized the typical student experience in seeking support as bouncing from office to office where services and supports are fragmented. She challenged session attendees to envision an intake process in which students only have to tell their story once, food pantries that can serve as portals to other services, and financial aid offices that function as financial services offices helping eligible students access public benefits. She said colleges often take an "inoculation approach,” avoiding the hard work of rethinking and redesigning their services to create a holistic student experience.

Dr. Stout explained how three strands of ATD’s recent work have merged to create a model of holistic student supports. Through the Working Students Success Network, ATD guided colleges to make changes in their culture and services that helped their students become more financially stable. ATD’s experience assisting colleges in the iPASS initiative began with helping them offer technology-enabled advising and then evolved as colleges began to see advising more as teaching supported by technology and later started integrating advising and student supports. A focus on helping colleges create a student-centered culture by building their capacity in seven institutional areas using ATD’s Institutional Capacity Framework provided the foundation for these and other changes.

Dr. Stout noted specific institutional practices that would advance holistic supports:

  • Establishing shared responsibility
  • Building meaningful relationships with students
  • Monitoring student progress and needs
  • Leveraging targeted data and technology across the institution
  • Reimagining policies and practices

She also left attendees with questions:

  • Who are your students? What data and processes are needed to uplift students’ voices and needs?
  • What structures and processes need to be redesigned to achieve a model of student supports that uses evidence-based design principles?
  • What kind of culture shift is needed on your campus to holistically support students?

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