Basic needs insecurity, new student success initiatives take center stage at DREAM conference

Community college leaders and higher education experts from 48 states gathered in Long Beach, California, last week for a national convening organized by student success nonprofit Achieving the Dream. One “major through line” at the DREAM conference was the need for community colleges to better support students outside the classroom, especially when it comes to meeting basic food, housing, and financial needs, EdSurge reports.

Related: UC Berkeley launches first-of-its-kind Basic Needs Center >

Speaking at a plenary session, Sara Goldrick-Rab, a higher ed policy professor at Temple University and founder of Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, emphasized the need for nationally representative data on basic needs insecurity. According to Diverse Issues in Higher Education, she encouraged community colleges to look beyond financial aid and ensure they understand students’ needs, connect students with SNAP and food stamps, and pursue innovative interventions.

Easing basic needs insecurity in Texas and at tribal colleges and universities

Meanwhile, Russell Lowery-Hart, president of Amarillo College in Texas, spoke of the basic needs insecurity surfaced in surveying Amarillo students—and the college’s efforts to close the gap. Across the past six years, Amarillo College has launched an Advocacy and Resource center featuring a food pantry and social services, a legal aid clinic, a childcare center, and a counseling center. During that same timeframe, the college’s three-year graduation rate increased from 13 percent to 22 percent.

Cheryl Crazy Bull, president of the American Indian College Fund, pointed out that basic needs insecurity is especially prevalent among students at tribal colleges and universities. The institutions tend to draw from rural and economically depressed regions and from the very start, they “had to be aware that they were dealing with a community that already had insufficient housing and were in food deserts,” Crazy Bull said.

Other initiatives to focus on adaptive courseware, single mothers

In addition to the discussion of basic needs, the DREAM conference ushered in a new initiative focused on understanding and improving the experience of single mothers attending two- and four-year programs, only 8 percent of whom graduate within six years. Announcing the effort, former second lady Jill Biden said it will involve “hosting regional roundtables with students and working with advocates across the nation to figure out how to create the best, most effective support system we can.”

Achieving the Dream also announced a new partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation to grow the number of colleges and universities using adaptive courseware. The hope is that using technology to personalize classroom instruction to individual students will help eliminate the racial and income-based equity gaps that compromise degree completion.

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