Post-Harvey Basic Needs

As we all know, student retention and success often depend upon basic factors such as food, shelter, and transportation. When colleges that are closed due to flooding open up again, many of their students may be barely hanging on. Affected students may not want to think about studying, even if they have a comfortable and safe place to do so, and many won’t.

Texas community colleges in the Gulf Coast region are mobilizing to offer extra help when the students arrive.

In other parts of the country, a movement of sorts to help students with basic needs may be instructive. From an article by Jillian Berman, in Market Watch:

Over the next few weeks, professors will present millions of students with a syllabus, a guide to their class that typically features books and other materials students will have to study to pass. But this year, a growing number of professors are including some other things they hope will help students succeed: information for students who are struggling to find housing or food.

The movement toward adding this so-called basic needs language was sparked by a tweet earlier this month from Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor at Temple University with more than 22,000 Twitter followers. Goldrick-Rab has made a career of chronicling the financial barriers that keep students from persisting in college and she’s also worked to develop policies that could help this group.

Social media is important in such mobilization. We tend to believe that all students have cell phones, but Harvey may have knocked out this assumption, at least for a while. Consequently, hard-copy handouts for students with information on how to get help with basic needs might be a good idea.

Transportation will be a challenge at many schools, especially if parking lots remain flooded (large parking sites are commonly located in flood plains). Many affected areas do not have public transportation systems. Houston Community College campuses are generally accessible by bus, but HCC does not open until Sept. 11, so the situation there remains dire. If transportation is a problem, offering more courses online seems to be an ideal alternative, but this is easier said than done. For instance, students in developmental courses tend to perform better with face-to-face instruction. And many students have lost their personal computers and internet connectivity.

As reported earlier, relief efforts have been established all over the region. This is to our credit, but the practical logistics of getting students what they need to succeed in college remain formidable.

The more we can share information, the better. And each college has a different set of challenges.