As part of a national effort to ensure students can complete college degrees, certificates, or credentials without basic needs like food, housing and transportation getting in the way, the National League of Cities (NLC) chose seven cities for the Cities Addressing Basic Needs to Promote Postsecondary and Workforce Success initiative generously supported by The Kresge Foundation.
The seven cities selected for this technical assistance initiative include Chula Vista, California; Denver, Colorado; Oakland, California; Philadelphia; Pennsylvania; Richmond, Virginia; Rochester, New York; and San Diego, California.
Students report that even when they receive full-tuition scholarships for college, many are still not able to attend or complete their education because of the high cost of food, housing, transportation and books.
A 2019 study by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University found that 45 percent of community college student respondents face food insecurity. The survey of 86,000 students at 90 community colleges and 33 four-year colleges across 24 states also revealed that 56 percent of community college students are housing insecure, and 17 percent are homeless.
With the knowledge that expanded educational opportunities are even more crucial for low-income students and students of color who are more likely to be left behind without bold interventions at the city level, this initiative will focus its lens on those local residents who may struggle to meet their basic needs.
Mayors and other city leaders have significant roles to play in ensuring that community college students’ basic needs are met. These leaders are well-positioned to play a pivotal role helping to remove barriers that impede students’ ability to succeed.
For the past six years, with the support of The Kresge Foundation, NLC has supported city-level efforts to increase postsecondary attainment and completion.
“Our nation’s community colleges are an important onramp to increased educational attainment and socioeconomic mobility for millions of students. No student should have their educational dreams derailed by a lack of adequate food or housing while in college,” said Caroline Altman Smith, deputy director of Kresge’s Education Program. “With NLC’s valuable guidance, these cities are poised to make strides in shaping systems that offer critical supports to community college students, so students can focus on their studies and career plans without worrying about meeting basic needs.”
By intentionally focusing on basic needs, the selected cities will uncover how many of their community college students are struggling to stay on course. The cities will then design a plan with their local colleges, chambers of commerce, workforce development boards, city agencies and community-based organizations to understand the data and target resources and support where students can easily access them.
“The emerging evidence underscores the obstacles posed by hunger and homelessness as residents try to complete their degrees or certificates and better their lives,” said Clifford M. Johnson, executive director of the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. “We look forward to working with these seven mayors and other city officials to ensure those pursuing postsecondary educational opportunities are able to study, learn, graduate and begin careers that provide economic mobility.”
The initiative will run through June 2021 and culminate with a national policy briefing in Washington, D.C. where mayors, city leaders and their partners will share their lessons learned and strategies for this work.
About the Authors:
Audrey M. Hutchinson, MSc., MPH is the director of education and expanded learning at the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.
Bela Shah Spooner is the program director of expanded learning at the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.