Due in part to the unique challenges faced by students during the COVID-19 pandemic, campus leaders have begun to recognize the critical importance of having on-campus basic needs coordinators. Basic needs coordinators are tasked with helping students secure housing, food, mental health supports and other resources that can reinforce a sense of stability in their lives. The goal is for students to have a partner embedded within their academic institution that can help them access all resources available to them, as many students remain unaware of how to make the most of those resources—or even find them at all.
While the position itself is hardly new, it’s increasingly being seen as a vital component of institutions’ strategy to boost persistence and student success—and calls for additional support helping students to meet basic needs have come from statehouses as well. In fact, in recent weeks, Oregon and California have both emerged as bellwethers in passing state policies designed to ensure access to basic needs coordinators for students across public universities. Below, we’ve broken down the new policies from both states.
- California: In July 2021, it was announced that $100 million of California’s new $47.1 billion higher education budget will be used to address homelessness and food insecurity on community college campuses across the state. In accordance with the legislation, community colleges across the state will be required to establish a basic needs center and hire a basic needs coordinator by July 1, 2022.
- Oregon: The Oregon state legislature passed a bill in July 2021 allocating almost $5 million in funding for every college and university in the state to hire a “basic needs navigator” to serve their student body.
With the latest wave of COVID showing no signs of slowing down as a new school year approaches, basic needs coordinators will have their work cut out for them. As institutions consider the challenges that lie ahead, these are some of the priorities that we hope will be adopted by basic needs coordinators:
- Campus initiatives to raise awareness of available resources: Helping students understand the scope of available resources and eligibility requirements is the first step in getting them the help they need. Basic needs centers and coordinators should develop creative communications efforts that encourage students to learn what is available to them.
- Prioritizing mental health and wellness: Students have shown incredible resilience as they’ve adapted to the challenges posed by COVID-19—but at the same time, research suggests that the need for mental health support has never been greater. Basic needs coordinators should be prepared to support students as they develop holistic plans for their personal and academic lives that prioritize mental health and wellness.
- Countering stigma associated with nutrition assistance programs and other benefits: For both college students and members of the general population, there is a long history of benefit stigma, especially for those from low-income communities, that has hindered many individuals from enrolling in beneficial programs. Basic needs coordinators should be sure to engage in compassionate communication that reduces reluctance on the part of students and increases their sense of comfort with making use of available resources.
- Coordinate with counterparts in financial aid to ensure cohesion in plans to support students: In addition to offering aid and assistance, it's the job of higher ed institutions to ensure that those responsible for doling out resources remove any barriers to access for students. Increasing coordination between campus offices is an easy fix. Student affairs and financial aid offices should be partnering to develop systems that provide clarity for students who are already juggling course loads, work schedules, and other obligations. These teams already exist to offer support but must be encouraged to improve upon internal processes to better serve students.
In the months to come, basic needs coordinators are likely to be a crucial resource for students and institutions navigating the ongoing uncertainty caused by the pandemic. The recent bills in Oregon and California suggest that a growing number of states are recognizing the importance of the role, and we hope to see more policies and practices that can help more students receive the hands-on support and guidance they need throughout their education.
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