Panel Paper: Healthy, Housed, and Well-Fed: Assessing the Effectiveness of a Basic Needs Support Program for College Student Success

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Coolidge - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Brandon Balzer Carr and Rebecca London, University of California, Santa Cruz

Improvements to the inclusivity of college admissions for students from varying socioeconomic and immigrant backgrounds combined with the reduced purchasing power of financial aid can leave some undergraduate and graduate students economically vulnerable. Efforts to improve student success outcomes for these same students have focused on a variety of approaches including academic support, improving sense of belonging, pedagogical innovations, and many others. However, if students’ basic needs go unmet, their ability to engage with undergraduate or graduate materials and succeed in those settings is compromised. Recent research has documented fairly well the extent of the food and housing insecurity problems on college campuses. However, we have not yet begun to understand how interventions to support students economically can help them to stay on campus and finish their degrees.

In this study, we work collaboratively with the program staff at Slug Support at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) to better understand the patterns of student service receipt, the demographic and academic characteristics of served students, and the trajectory of students’ paths through the university before and after their service. Slug Support (named for the UCSC mascot, the banana slug) is a campus-wide program that provides food, emergency housing, and financial support for students in need as well as mentorship and referrals to support services in the community. Its social workers provide individualized care for students who have multiple needs and the program also operates as a conduit for key offices on campus (e.g., academic advising, financial aid, counseling, disability resources), as well as overseeing a food pantry on campus.

The program’s ultimate goal is to help students stay in school and graduate. Using Slug Support case notes maintained from 2011 to 2018 in a common database linked individually to the UCSC Student Information System, we analyze the characteristics of undergraduate and graduate students who access Slug Support, their extent of service, their pre- and post-service grades and enrollment, and their post-service quarterly retention and graduation. For example, preliminary analyses suggest that financial assistance specifically for graduating seniors who are in crisis (e.g., housing eviction) can prevent an academic leave and allow students to finish their degree. For descriptive analyses, we use chi-square tests. For grade, enrollment, retention, and graduation analyses, we use linear and generalized linear mixed effects models (i.e., covariance pattern models) to account for variable amounts of repeated service provision per student.

The importance of this study goes well beyond documenting the financial needs of postsecondary students. In an era of tightening budgets, increasing enrollments, and changing student demographics among the 273,179 students in the University of California system, ensuring that the students we admit have a chance to succeed is of the utmost importance to administrators at each of the campuses, the University of California Office of the President, the Regents, and state government officials. Findings have the potential to change the ways that financial need is defined in higher education and services for basic needs are configured to best support the most vulnerable students.