COLLABORATION

Partnership to help hungry & homeless students in US campuses

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Starfish Project Hope hopes to help campus administrators offer better support systems for students facing housing and food insecurities.

Housing and food insecurity challenges facing US college students have emerged as a growing problem in recent years, hurting retention and graduation rates and contributing to the country’s student mental health crisis.

And whilst national data describing the scope and dimensions of the problem are widely available, information on its prevalence in college campuses remain sparse. According to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), there are only 31 quality studies of campus food security, not many of which cover multiple colleges.

Without sufficient data, college administrators struggle to understand the scale of the problem and what to do about it. But address it they must as failure to do so would be to the detriment of both the student and the institution, whose very success or failure is tied to student performance.

Fact is, housing and food insecurity can have severe and profound effects on college students. The lack of access to a reliable supply of nutritious food affects the student’s ability to learn, thus leading them to fail assignments and exams, withdraw from class or the university, or graduate with grade point averages much lower than their peers’. 

This then reduces their chances at being gainfully employed, continuing the vicious cycle of basic needs insecurity that could lead to other problems such as poverty and crime.

It goes without saying that the same or similar fates await those who lack the necessary resources for safe housing. Without a roof over their heads, these students are lacking a private space from where they can get a good night’s sleep, concentrate on their studies or to simply relax. 

But how many are affected and how badly? In what form should campus support come?

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To dig a little deeper, world-leading edtech firm Hobsons recently struck a partnership with Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice

The partnership dubbed Starfish Project Hope aims to identify and understand, via participant surveys, patterns in the issue’s prevalence in college campuses and to use that data to improve how educators respond to these challenges.

The findings will go towards helping colleges better understand the needs of their students so as to strengthen their support systems where necessary, whether that means beefing up campus pantries, offering temporary housing or financial aid instruments, among other suitable measures.

“Educational goals take a backseat when students are unable to support their own basic food and housing needs,” Starfish GM Howard Bell was quoted saying in Forbes.

“We are extremely proud to partner with the Hope Center to give our institutions the ability to identify and support these students in need and help them reach their academic goals.”

“Starfish Project Hope” is a reflection of the two entities’ coming-together. The name borrows from Hobsons’ Starfish Enterprise Success Module, a student success and advising platform used by over 500 colleges and universities, and the Hope Center, a nonprofit action research center that aims to ensure all college students are able to complete their education.

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According to Forbes, the project will kick off in the Spring 2020 semester. Institutions currently using Starfish will be able to expand their student intake surveys with 35 new questions developed by the Hope Center to identify students in need of additional support in the areas of food and housing.

Among others, the survey will seek answers to questions such as: have you lost weight because of not enough money for food or have you not paid the full amount of a utility bill, and so on.

According to Bell, the responses will help schools improve their support services for students in need, which he believes will lead to improved retention and graduation rates. 

In addition, answers to the Starfish Project Hope questions will be shared with Hope Center researchers to help their work in exploring and understanding the needs of today’s college students. In respect of student privacy, their responses will be anonymised. 

The center is also responsible for the #RealCollege survey, which is currently the country’s largest annual assessment of basic needs security among college students. 

In its last survey of 123 institutions conducted during the fall of 2018, the center found that 45 percent of nearly 86,000 student respondents were food insecure in the prior 30 days, 56 percent were housing insecure in the previous year, while 17 percent were homeless in the previous year.

The enhanced survey will be provided at no extra cost to participating colleges.