Treat basic needs as an academic issue. Students can’t learn when they are hungry, when they aren’t able to sleep or stay warm or find safe shelter, when they are unable to physically travel to a face-to-face class, or when they have to miss class or studying to care for children. In a host of ways, challenges around basic needs can sabotage even the most motivated students and undermine even the most effective course design. Colleges need to see themselves as part of an ecosystem that ensures the health and safety of students (and faculty and staff), since health and safety are prerequisites to learning. In times of crisis, the challenges that many students already face around things like food, housing, transportation, and child care can be exacerbated, and it is especially important for institutions to plan ahead for both short- and long-term improvements.
As you think about curriculum delivery during times of crisis, ask: “What are the challenges around basic needs that might be preventing our students from coming to the table to learn?” Try as possible to consider these basic needs a key educational and academic issue that it is the institution’s responsibility to address.
- Are there disruptions to employment that are affecting student income and if so, how can the university offer solutions to fill those income gaps?
- How can campus food pantries partner with local and regional pantries and food recovery programs to better serve students and the community during times of crisis?
- If “going home” becomes part of crisis management at a residential campus, how are students with no other home beyond the dorms being provided for? What about students for whom home would be dangerous?
- Could transportation disruptions create a hardship for students, and how can campus shuttles or ride-share programs be deployed to assist?
- If childcare centers are closed or economic precarity prevents students or faculty from affording it, how can the institution advocate for faculty/staff/student protocols that are sensitive to parents, and also help create regional solutions for parents who are trying to work or study through the crisis?
Examples & Resources
- This report (updated in 2020) shows that around half of all two-year students and almost one-third of four-year college students experienced housing insecurity, food insecurity or both;
- An article about how low-income college students were affected when campuses closed during COVID-19.
- Slides from the April 2020 webinar by the National Governor’s Association about addressing housing and food insecurity among college students.
- A guide from the Hope Center for College, Community, & Justice about how to maximize the impact of CARES funds for students.
- Advice from Generation Hope about how colleges can support student parents during COVID-19.
- Kennesaw State has a site dedicated to helping students who are homeless, food insecure, or in foster care.
- Starting a Fast Fund to dispense quick emergency aid to students in need.
- If you know of any resources or examples related to institutions that integrate basic needs into their crisis response plans, curriculum, or community partnerships, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us!