Century College Resource and Support Center: VISTA Service and Student Retention
Sarah Wiese is a member of the 2015-16 College Health Corps VISTA cohort. She is serving at Century College in White Bear Lake and her service is dedicated to establishing a Resource and Support Center on campus to help low-income students stay in school by addressing their basic health needs. As a result of her service, the Center now has a permanent location on campus and offers a variety of services. Read on to hear about this in her own words!
1. Describe your role at Century and your work on the Resource and Support Center.
My role as a VISTA involves developing new health-related community partnerships for the college. Some of these community partnerships include healthcare enrollment from Portico Healthnet, financial counseling from FamilyMeans, legal resources from Call for Justice LLC., and increasing student access to food through SNAP enrollment. A significant part of my work involves establishing Century’s new Resource and Support Center (the Center). The Center’s goal is to connect students with a variety of resources and organizations within Century’s community to not only help them succeed in their studies but outside the classroom as well. Currently the Center hosts weekly scholarship workshops and houses the school’s food pantry.
Beyond collaborating with community partners, I have also attended Resource and Support Center team meetings at Century. Our main projects include developing intake and tracking systems for the Resource and Support Center as well as collaborating to create marketing materials and events to promote the new services available at the Center.
2. How did the idea for the Center come about?
When I started this position in June, I learned about all of the great initiatives Century had in place to further student equity. The student demographics at Century are rapidly changing and the staff and faculty at the college are taking note in a big way. Currently, about half of Century students are Pell grant eligibile, meaning they fit the standards for living in poverty. An April 2015 survey of 296 Century students showed 55% indicated a need for help with nutrition, 53% indicated need for financial planning assistance, 39% indicated recent difficulties accessing dental or medical care, and 19% needed help accessing public benefits. Additionally the Boyton Health Survey of 2012 showed more than 15% of Century students did not have health insurance, which equates to more than 2,000 students. Many at the college felt they needed to address this student need with a designated place on campus where students could go for help to address needs beyond campus.
3. Describe the planning process for the Center.
The 2014-15 CHC VISTA member serving at Century created a health survey identifying the exact areas where students need assistance or topics they would like to learn about including financial literacy, debt counseling, health insurance, food assistance, legal services, etc. These results (described in question 2) are what the Resource and Support Center team used to identify potential partnerships. After discussion, I invite a potential partner to a meeting at Century to initiate conversation and explore future partnership possibilities. The goal is always to have partners make regular visits to the Center or improve referral processes to various services for our students.
The other aspect of the planning process has been deciding how we wish to promote the Center. I continue to work with Century’s marketing department to advertise new partnerships as well as making students aware of the Center. Coordinating with the marketing department to make flyers, posters, TV monitor slides, a page on the college’s website, and hosting a Resource and Support Center Open House have become a large part of this planning process. We had over 100 people attend our Open House on March 9th including many students, college administration staff, and community members.
4. How has the Center positively impacted students using it?
From the start of spring semester on January 11th to our Resource and Support Center Open House on March 9th, 72 different students came to the Center for assistance. It wasn’t until I read the Resource and Support Center intake forms that I really got to see the positive impact of the Center in students’ own words. On our intake forms, we chose to target specific topics that highlight areas of need. These included whether they would like information and resources about domestic violence, housing insecurity, paying for utilities, facing eviction, paying for groceries, and a space for them to provide any other information they think we should know. One intake form stated “I am really dedicated to school and don’t want my outside issues to affect my school.” Earlier in the form this student cited reasons for visiting the Center included transportation issues and sleeping “couch to couch.” In this case, the Center was able to give the student a bus card, items from the food pantry, and a follow-up conversation with a Century counselor.
5. How has your service built the capacity of resources for low-income Century students?
Before my VISTA year, Century’s work with Portico Healthnet was the only formalized community partnership for the college. Over the last nine months I collaborated with others from the college to bring services to campus like FamilyMeans financial services, Energy Assistance program applications from Community Action Partnerships of Washington and Ramsey counties, and bag lunches from White Bear Universal Unitarian Church, to name a few. By making that initial contact with community organizations, I have created connections for the college that I will pass on to other staff members when my year of service is over. I work closely with the same members of the Advising and Counseling department who have already taken over some of these responsibilities.
Beyond simply creating partnerships, one of the goals for my year of service was to create more discussion around student equity and resources available to students. Stigma around poverty is huge and prevents many students from asking for help. It is my hope that talking about these resources on campus will help decrease this stigma and build capacity for those students in need.