5 Questions & Answers from the Student Ready Campus Summit

November 11, 2019

More than 100 staff, faculty, students representing 20 campuses and 12 community organizations from Iowa and Minnesota gathered on October 25, 2019 at North Hennepin Community College for a day of learning, sharing, and planning how to increasingly address students’ basic needs, especially by engaging students as agents and leaders in this work and community partners as key allies. Here’s some of what we learned. 

It is an inversion of the idea that students need to become “college ready” before they can succeed in higher education. Campuses can also adapt to meet students where they are — becoming ready for students. Tia McNair, Susan Albertine, Michelle Asha Cooper, Nicole McDonald, and Thomas Major wrote about this concept in their book, Becoming a Student-Ready College.

  • IAMNCC is focused on campus-community partnerships and education for social change and civic leadership. In recent years, we’ve worked to support campuses in meeting students’ basic needs. We recognize that these issues often act as barriers to full participation and successful completion for students, especially low-income, first-generation, and minoritized students. Partnerships and change-oriented student leadership are key strategies for addressing students’ unmet basic needs.

    For example, one breakout session featured Paige Wheeler and Michael Kranz from Normandale Community College where they have a reciprocal partnership with Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People (VEAP). The college serves VEAP through classes off campus, and VEAP serves the Normandale community by sending food access resources to campus.

    And sometimes building students’ civic agency can start with work right on campus, rather than in a community setting. Take Carol Glasser’s students at MSU Mankato, another breakout session. Her research methods students used an action research process to study student hunger on campus. As a result, they were able to build allies and advocate for a range of new resources on campus to support students’ basic needs.

Gather data. Whether it’s working with a class to collect data or using a survey like the Boynton College Student Health Survey or #RealCollege Survey, we need research to guide this work.

Forming a committee or task force can help develop potential allies and keep them engaged over time. Identify and invite campus and community stakeholders to the conversation early on so they can advocate for the ideas that work for them while also shaping high-impact programs and strategies. We heard about amazing leadership from those in food service, library services, chaplains’ offices, community engagement, a range of disciplines, and more. 

Multiple campuses noted a gap between the number of students who have unmet basic needs and the lower number of students who are actually accessing basic needs resources through campus. Here are some ideas emerging from the session led by Najma Omar and Maggie Bruns of Hamline University and Brian Yingst of South Central College.

Efforts must be data-informed and student-centered. We don’t actually know what students need unless we ask & engage them directly and consistently.

We need to reduce the stigma around food insecurity so that students know what resources and support exist and are willing to make use of them. Humanize, don’t normalize, the problems. 

We must define the terms and concepts (i.e. food security) in ways that make sense to students and prompt them to seek support. Many students might not realize the structural roots of the problems they’re struggling with and they might not realize that resources exist & they qualify for them.

We heard a lot about food access strategies, but sessions also addressed basic needs issues like housing, transportation, child care, and emergency funds. Rebecca Leighton stressed the need for “upstream” and “downstream” strategies to meet student needs as she discussed UMN Twin Cities’ approach to food insecurity, and the theme resonated throughout the day’s sessions and round tables. Here are just a few of the food access strategies that came up: 

 

  • On-campus food pantries: Emergency food access on campus
  • Mobile food pantries: Emergency food that comes to campus periodically through partners’ buses
  • Off-campus food pantry partners: Partnering with off-campus pantries to stock on-campus food shelves and/or creating Google maps guiding students to off-campus pantries. Examples: Ruby’s Pantry, Second Harvest Heartland
  • Discounted Food: Discounted grocery packs for students and their families. Ex: Fare for All
  • Swipe out hunger: A student-led nonprofit that focuses on equipping students to donate swipes from their campus meal plans to students dealing with food insecurity
  • SNAP: Including SNAP (food stamps) enrollment information in all new student packets. SNAP ed educators may also be available to teach cheap, healthy cooking. 

There’s no one way. Campuses stressed the need for creativity and collaboration as they shared the following strategies: 

 

  • Partnerships of all kinds of organizations. Local churches, food services, and businesses in the community have served as effective partners. 
  • Employee payroll deduction
  • Student activity fees elected by students
  • Donation competitions. Ex: Favorite cereal donation competitions at staff meetings. 
  1.  Iowa & Minnesota Campus Compact is currently surveying campuses about their efforts to meet students’ basic needs and their capacity to address these issues. So far, all campuses have cited a lack of capacity–whether it be due to inadequate funding, a lack of data, or staff support–in meeting students’ basic needs. Over 60% of campuses identified a need for staff to receive more training and resources in order to better meet student basic needs. That’s part of why the Campus Compact VISTA program exists, which provides full time capacity building support to campuses to address students’ basic needs. Learn more about becoming a VISTA host site here. 

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