17:30 PM

UHCL, UHD receive major grant awards to aid students with basic needs hardships

The Basic Needs Grant supports UHCL, UHD students facing acute financial challenges so they can remain focused on academics.

Houston-area college graduation rates and workforce development are about to get a boost thanks to major grants from the U.S. Department of Education. Combined, University of Houston-Clear Lake and the University of Houston-Downtown  will receive almost $2M for their Basic Needs Program-Supporting Student Success Programs.

The funding expands financial assistance for students experiencing food, housing, transportation, medical care or technology insecurities. These measures will ensure that more students will have the ability to stay in school instead of “stopping out,” graduate in a more timely manner and enter the workforce with degrees of value, becoming the leaders in their professions and communities. Ultimately, improved retention and graduation rates affect socioeconomic mobility for generations to come.

“Our university’s commitment to supporting the basic needs of our students is a testament to our belief in their potential and it’s an investment in their success,” said UH-Clear Lake President Richard Walker. “By ensuring access to basic needs, such as food, housing, transportation, medical care, and technology, we empower students to focus on their studies and reach their full academic and personal potential.”

“I meet regularly with students, and I have heard first-hand the basic needs of the UHD student body,” stated UHD President Loren J. Blanchard. “This grant will allow us to create a Basic Needs Center to build an evidence base for how the university will provide students social services supports in the future,” continued Blanchard. “With the implementation of a collaboration and connections approach, the Basic Needs Center will consolidate existing campus-level interventions and services, improve awareness of and access to these services, and increase available resources, allowing students facing basic-needs insecurities to stabilize and experience academic success.”

University of Houston-Clear Lake

UHCL students are considered “non-traditional,” with an average age of 26. Many students have full-time jobs and families to support. A majority come from backgrounds with significant financial challenges, with roughly 42% of students receiving Pell Grants. The support from the Basic Needs Grant will reduce stress caused by unmet personal and financial needs, resulting in healthier students who are more able to devote time and attention to academics.

The grant, which awards UHCL $949,914 over three years, aims to reduce basic needs insecurities that inhibit student success by:

·         Reducing the prevalence of basic needs insecurities at UHCL;

·         Improving academic persistence and graduation rates among the recipients of basic needs assistance;

·         Awarding access to technology, which is essential for academic success;

·         Transforming the UHCL campus culture and systems of support for students experiencing basic need insecurities.

UH-Clear Lake Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Office of Student Advocacy Kristi Randolph Simon said the grant would build upon support services that already exist for students in need. “We have the Hawk Emergency Fund for students who are in an emergency food or housing situation due to unforeseen circumstances, but that has limitations,” Randolph Simon said. “That is donor funded, and a student can only apply once in their academic career. But with this grant, we have something more substantial to assist students to fill in those gaps when it comes to their basic needs.”

Randolph Simon added that contributions to the Hawk Emergency Fund also sustain the Hawk Pantry, which gives students in need canned goods and personal hygiene products. However, donation amounts rise and fall, and limited funds have made some students ineligible to receive assistance.

“With this grant, there are no barriers,” she said. “Students only need to demonstrate a hardship, not an emergency. If students can provide documentation of things like a past-due rent notice or have an inability to pay for an urgent car repair, we can use these grant funds to assist them.”

She said she had encountered students who had lost their homes and belongings through disasters like house fires or flooding, as well as those who were fleeing domestic violence. Additionally, students who were uninsured with a need for medical attention could get funds for appointments and prescription medications. “Some students have lost the parent or caregiver who paid their housing, and others have aged out of the foster care system and have no support,” she explained. “We will assist these students, but we will also connect them with resources that can help. We can’t sustain students long term, but we can help them through a hardship.”

Randolph Simon said that the university’s project partners and collaborators include Student Business Services, the Office of Financial Aid, and the Accessibility Support Center.

University of Houston-Downtown

“Enhancing Student Success” is the first goal of UHD’s 2022-27 strategic plan “A New Paradigm” and UHD’s number one priority. Optimizing lifelong student success and engagement means meeting the students where they are. “At UHD, we understand that Student Success depends upon our addressing our students’ basic needs first,” stated Lynette Cook-Francis, UHD Interim Vice President for Student Success and Student Life.

“A recent basic needs survey told us that 39% of UHD students are having difficulty paying for the increased cost of utilities, and 36% of UHD students are having difficulty paying their rent or mortgages,” continued Cook-Francis. “With nearly one in three UHD students responsible for caring for a dependent, emergency dependent care is critical to support their success. Furthermore, UHD is a 100% commuter campus, with nearly one in five students relying on public transportation, and almost one in three students have missed at least one class session because of transportation-related issues.”

The grant award of $943,724 over three years for UHD’s Basic Needs Program will fund a Basic Needs Center to provide for immediate students’ needs, build a staff to support those needs, and collect data through a case management process that connects students to comprehensive resources. Utilizing current technologies, the project will collect data in determining which community, campus, federal, and state resources students accessed in alleviating barriers to meeting their basic needs. The collection of data will be analyzed to produce key performance indicator reports.

The delivery of centralized and highly visible services on campus will provide a student-centered approach, empowering the Basic Needs team to focus on student needs first. The program will address:

  • Food security by supplementing the current Food Market and providing access to emergency hot meals from UHD’s Food Service with at least 2,000 meals per year provided to the most at risk and food insecure students;
  • Transportation security by providing public transportation prepaid cards as well as emergency transportation grants;
  • Housing security and dependent care supported with emergency grants.

The grant will allow UHD to appoint a Director for Basic Needs to administer the program, and UHD social work students will serve as Student Empowerment Ambassadors, intern entry-level practitioners. These Student Empowerment Ambassadors will coordinate support services, assist with FAFSA, SNAP applications and connect with campus and community partners.

For more information,  UHCL students should visit the Office of Student Advocacy or go online.