Safety, Security, and College Attainment: An Investigation of Undergraduates’ Basic Needs and Institutional Response

Source: Katharine Broton, Victoria Frank & Sara Goldrick-Rab, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Paper prepared for presentation at the annual meetings of the Association for Public Policy and Management, October 2014

There is increasing evidence that students from low-income families are facing great difficulties in covering the costs of college attendance, as need-based financial aid has not kept up with rising costs. For some students, these financial constraints can lead to difficult decisions about whether to sacrifice consistent access to food or secure and safe housing in order to remain in school. This paper examines evidence of these struggles among undergraduates and then turns to consider how institutional leaders are responding. Using quantitative and qualitative data from five states, we explore three types of responses. One group of leaders embraces the work of meeting students’ basic needs as part of the college mission and actively seeks strategies and solution, while another group expresses a desire to help but mainly engages in wishful thinking. At the same time, some institutional actors respond to students’ financial constraints by questioning whether or not they belong in college, raising concerns about their deservingness. Implications for future research, policy, and practice are discussed.