Serving students who are experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, and financial crisis

I recently presented the workshop “Serving students who are experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, and financial crisis”  at the California College Personnel Association’s Annual Institute. There were many participants (standing room only), which reflects the increased interest in these topics among student affairs professionals. Many of us are looking for models, methods, and best practices to serve our most vulnerable students.

Background

The research supports that college students face major financial challenges. Food insecurity is common among college students, and food insecure students are often housing insecure. Food and housing insecurity negatively affects students’ education. Students who are struggling to meet basic needs experience more stress, frequently work more which results in greater part-time enrollment, experience lower GPAs, and often extend their expected date of graduation.

According to the UC Global Food Initiative survey, 19 percent of UC students indicated they had “very low” food security, which the USDA defines as experiencing reduced food intake at times due to limited resources. An additional 23 percent were characterized as having “low” food security, defined by the USDA as reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet, with little or no indication of reduced food intake.

College and University Food Bank Alliance report states drew on a survey of almost 3,800 students at 34 community and 4-year colleges across 12 states – the broadest sample to date – the authors found that 22 percent of respondents have the very lowest levels of food insecurity, and 13 percent of students at community colleges are homeless.

Models/Ideas

An increasing number of campuses have the following types of services:

  • CalFresh Outreach coordinators who work with local Department Social Services to enroll students by prequalifying students on campus
  • Emergency grants for students with unexpected expenses which could negatively impact their academics, such as medical bills and car repairs
  • Emergency housing, which could include on campus options and/or hotel vouchers
  • Meal vouchers/cards, veggie bucks, or other dollars that can be used to get food on campus
  • Dining app that tells students when leftover food is available at campus events
  • Food pantry, as well as pop-up food pantries and food “shelves,” often includes toilettries
  • EBT card readers on campus to allow students to use CalFresh benefits
  • Food Bank distribution on campus

Best Practices

Every institution has unique needs, strengths, and weaknesses. One of the challenges of implementing these programs is determining which best meet the needs of the students in your institution AND align with the resources available. Here are some best practices that can be applied to any institution:

  • Share resources – A great place to start is by joining the College and University Food Bank Alliance (http://www.cufba.org)
  • Document need – Whether you have existing services or nothing in place, you can being by surveying students, conducing focus groups, and gathering institutional data, to determine what students need and want
  • Partner with local agencies – every campus has different town-gown relationships, but nature partners include faith-based organizations, the Food Bank, local non-profits, and Department of Social Services
  • Identify engaged faculty – faculty are often interested in grants, research, and service-learning. Find ways to incorporate these into your basic needs programs and services. Reach out to various departments which may have overlapping interests, such as nutrition and sociology
  • Create a working group – stakeholders may include student leaders, Financial Aid, Dean of Students, Campus Health and Well-Being, Athletics, Campus Dining, and Housing

Resources

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5 Ways to Treat Students Like Family

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Giving my daughter cheap advice at the Live Oak Music Festival

When I look into the eyes of my students, I often imagine my six-year-old daughter sitting on the other side of the desk in eleven years. It’s unlikely that she will be sitting  across from me, but she may be sitting in another office somewhere. What will bring her to the dean’s office? What experience do I want her to have? What advice will she get?

My daughter is just entering the public school system. She will be completing first grade in a few months. She loves school and is an avid reader, but last week she received a behavior ticket. I won’t say what it was for, because years from now when she runs for presidency I don’t want her campaign tarnished by her mom’s blog post that disclosed she threw applesauce down the slide and soiled another girl’s clothes (oops! there I said it!), but it has me thinking about behavior and choices.

Personally, I’m hoping my daughter makes all her mistakes in first grade, and it’s smooth sailing from here into adulthood. But since I realize that’s likely not going to be the case, I’m embracing these incidents for what they are…teachable moments. I also realize I will not always be around to clean up the metaphorical applesauce and, as a mom, I hope that there will be caring adults throughout my daughter’s life who will also help her navigate through the messy, sticky situations that come up.

Whether it’s a mistake, a personal challenge, an academic setback, or another life event that  brings someone else’s child to my office, I try to treat all students with the respect, compassion, and attention I would provide to my own daughter in these five ways:

1. See their potential. Students who have been admitted to the university have already demonstrated they have great potential. Students also each possess unique strengths they can draw upon during challenging times. Looking for strengths and encouraging students to envision what is possible demonstrates our belief in them.

2. Believe them. It takes courage for students to share their stories. When we listen and validate their feelings, emotions, and concerns, students can ask for what they need and tell us how to best support them.

3. Give accurate information. Myths, out-dated information, and misunderstood policies can create stress and confusion for students. Empowered with information, students can make educated and appropriate decisions.

4. Advocate. Advocacy can take many forms. It can be connecting students to resources, speaking up for underrepresented students, creating a safe environment for students to express themselves, or educating ourselves on critical issues  in order to contribute to positive change.

5. Offer unconditional positive regard. Psychologist Carl Rogers developed the term unconditional positive regard, which means showing complete support and acceptance of a person. By showing students our acceptance and setting aside our judgment, we create a safe space for students to take risks, explore their possibilities, and maximize their full potential.

10 Habits of Successful College Students

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Today was the first day of a new quarter, which means lots of students are setting new academic goals. Based on my interactions with students over the years, here are 10 things successful college students do:

  1. Go to office hours.

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Taking advantage of office hours is critical to academic success. Office hours are an opportunity to build a one-on-one connection with the professor. In addition to advice on homework assignments or feedback from the last test, spending time in office hours could lead to a letter of recommendation, an undergraduate research opportunity, or helpful career advice.

  1. Get involved.

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Research supports that student involvement increases academic success. Successful students engage in their learning in- and out-side the classroom. They participate in discussion groups, attend educational events, join clubs, and give back to their communities.

  1. Study in groups.

Study groups can reduce procrastination, help students overcome difficulties understanding the material, get new perspectives, and develop interpersonal skills. Studying alone has benefits but can also easily lead to distraction, social isolation, and boredom.

  1. Go to the library.

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Studying in the library can help many students focus better. The library has fewer distractions than a bedroom or residence hall. The library also has useful resources such as helpful librarians, textbooks on reserve, group study rooms, and assistive technology.

  1. Take responsibility.

Successful students do not blame others or make excuses. They realize that they have control of their choices, actions, and behaviors. They own up to mistakes and look for ways they can improve next time.

  1. Aren’t afraid to fail.

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Failure is an important part of the learning process. Successful students do not let the fear of failure prevent them from taking risks, being creative, trying new activities, and stepping outside their comfort zone.

  1. Utilize resources.

Successful students do not try to do everything on their own. There are extensive resources on campus for students. These resources include, but are not limited to, advising centers, careers services, study skills workshops, writing center, and counseling services.

  1. Hang out with healthy people.

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Behaviors and attitudes are contagious. Success has a lot to do with who students choose to surround themselves with.

  1. Have a mentor.

A close mentoring relationship with a faculty member, advisor, resident hall director, or another staff member is an important part of college success. Mentors can provide career connections, encouragement, support, and advocacy – all things that college students need.

10. Use their voice.

Self-advocacy, self-expression, and self-actualization are different forms of using voice. The ability of students to realize their full potential is linked to their ability to communicate, be their authentic selves, pursue their passions, and express their feelings. Successful students  know themselves, know what they need, and can express their needs.

 

Bridging the Gap between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs

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Last week I led a workshop for our Student Affairs Winter Recharge on the topic of “Bridging the Gap between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.” My experiences as an instructor, as well as my personal experiences in education, have given me an appreciation for the transformative effect of a rigorous academic curriculum. And my interactions with students outside the classroom have confirmed the importance of reinforcing the academic components through additional opportunities for student development. As a result, I often feel like I have my foot in both camps.

In my role as a service-learning coordinator, I served as a liaison between academic affairs and student affairs. Many faculty have limited interactions with student affairs and are unfamiliar with the variety of services and programs offered; not surprisingly, student affairs professionals often feel misunderstood and unappreciated by faculty. The relationship between academic affairs and student affairs may not receive as much attention as retention or graduation rates, but its impact can be just as great for students. Ever since I stepped foot on campus as a student affairs professional I have seen and felt the real “division” between the Division of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.

Historical Background

Prior to the 1960’s, faculty was responsible for intellectual and social development of students. Around the 1970’s, enrollment increases created a higher demand for student affairs professionals to address needs for co-curricular programs and services. In the 1980’s higher education researchers began focusing on the need for collaboration between the growing student affairs divisions and academic affairs. By the 1990’s, national student affairs organizations like ACPA and NASPA released Best Practices (which are still pertinent). In the past ten years, High Impact Practices have gained the spotlight highlighting many of the practices that fall within student affairs as being critical to academic success.

Benefits of bridging the gap between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs:

  1. Seamless connection between in- and out-side of classroom experiences. When a student is trying to navigate a process that involves multiple departments (like coordinating disability services), lack of communication between departments can lead to frustration. If the student is already distressed, these disconnected experiences can exacerbate the student’s situation.
  2. Co-curricular experiences that enhance and compliment the curriculum. There are many opportunities, including Service Learning, for students to apply the knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world environments. When student affairs and academic affairs work together, students benefit from a richer learning experience.
  3. Holistic support and development of the whole student. Both faculty and student affairs staff are critical to student development. Both play a major role in orienting students to campus, helping students transition into college, and advising students in various aspects of personal and professional growth.
  4. Increased resources and support for students resulting in academic and personal success. Students need many types of role models, mentors, and advisors, and student success is greatly improved when the faculty and student affairs staff who are supporting a student are working collaboratively.
  5. Increased satisfaction with the overall university experience. The success of an institution is dependent on the quality of education and service provided to students. Taking care of our students improves the relationship between the student and the university.

Barriers

Barriers exist on both sides of the university. Barriers specific to faculty include lack of recognition and rewards for participation, significant turnover in student affairs, and lack of orientation and training on student affairs. Barriers specific to student affairs staff include, restricted freedom within the university due to classification (lack of tenure status), lack of understanding of tenure process that drives academic affairs, and perceptions that student affairs play a subordinate role in the university.

Barriers to both Student Affairs and Academic Affairs:

  1. Lack of knowledge or understanding of roles
  2. Assumptions and incorrect perceptions
  3. Competition for resources
  4. Lack of trust
  5. Organizational culture and language
  6. Values and priorities
  7. Organizational structures

Opportunities

The opportunities for collaboration are endless. Partnerships can range from formal strategic decisions to informal alliances. Some of these ideas can be implemented overnight, and others will require long-term planning.

Opportunities for collaboration:

  1. Classroom announcements and in-class trainings provided by student affairs
  2. Faculty office hours in Living Learning Communities/Housing
  3. Service learning courses
  4. Campuswide Task Forces
  5. First-year experience courses
  6. Academic-Student Affairs Partnership Meetings
  7. Campus-based Leadership Institute
  8. Conferences and Presentations
  9. Collaborative Grants and Research
  10. Institutes and Centers
  11. Advisory Boards
  12. Internships in Student Affairs
  13. Recruitment & Outreach
  14. Search Committees

I chose to pursue my Ph.D. because I wanted to leave the door open to academic affairs. I see the changes taking place in education and realize that in the academic world understanding student development theory, the learning process, and factors for success are critical supplements to a strong knowledge base in the academic field.

The gap between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs will not be bridged overnight. We will need both formal and informal processes to build collaborative partnerships. At the center of these collaborations will be professionals who understand the value of both academic affairs and student affairs.

Resources:

American Association for Higher Education, American College Personnel Association, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (1998). Powerful partnerships: A shared responsibility for learning. Washington, DC: Author.

Kellogg, K. (1999). Collaboration: Student affairs and academic affairs working together to promote student learning. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education.

Kuh, G.D. (1996). Guiding principles for creating seamless learning environments for undergraduates. Journal of College Student Development (37)2, 135-148.

Martin, J. & Murphy, S. (2000). Building a better bridge: Creating effective partnerships between academic affairs and student affairs. National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Inc.

7 Tips for Picking Your Major in College

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Do you ever have those moments when you’re speaking but you hear someone else’s words coming out of your mouth? It might be your mom or an old teacher. It’s a rare feeling for me, but it happened today.

I was meeting with a student who wanted to change his major. He had narrowed down his focus but was still debating between a few options in STEM. I heard myself say, “There are many paths to success. There is no wrong answer.” Huh? He looked at me with the same look I gave my undergraduate faculty advisor when he told me it didn’t matter what I majored in.

I entered college with a double major in Psychology and International Relations. My first week on campus I met with my faculty advisor and he said, “Why do you want to double major? Just pick one. It doesn’t matter which one.” How could it not matter? This was my future! A wrong choice could put me on a miserable path for my entire career! I could make a huge mistake!

I was passionate about helping people and wanted to be a psychologist, but I thought a career in International Relations would give me an exciting lifestyle traveling around the world. I continued taking classes in both majors but his words stuck with me. In the end I chose Psychology and dropped International Relations, and I never looked back.

I watched my peers of all majors follow all different career paths. For some their career paths were directed by family obligations, financial factors, or relationships. In any case, each internship, job, and experience gives us important skills, knowledge, and abilities and helps us define where we want to take the next step.

While I did say that there may be no right or wrong choice, there is definitely an informed choice so here are 7 tips for picking your major:

1. Follow your passion. Prestige and earning potential are important factors, but your passion for a subject is going to keep you going during the grueling study sessions and all-nighters.  If you have a lot of interests, spend some time reflecting on your long-term goals and what activities inspire you.

2. Talk to faculty. Each department has a unique culture and faculty. You will be spending a lot of time with your faculty so explore whether the department’s culture is a good fit for you. Are they laid back? Hands on? Approachable? Helpful? Interested in knowing you?

3. Utilize Career Services. Career Services has several helpful resources, such as personality and strengths assessments that can help you identify which subjects you might enjoy and/or areas where you might be more successful. Career Services also has industry contacts and can guide you on possible internship and career options in various majors.

4. Keep your options open. If you want to apply for graduate or medical school be sure to take the necessary prerequisites. Some majors may align more closely to these requirements so it may save you some time; however, don’t let that be the only deciding factor. Ultimately, many graduate schools are looking to see that you have taken the necessary classes regardless of your major.

5. Do your research on undergraduate research. Undergraduate research looks great on a resume and gives you applicable experiences. Look into the various undergraduate research areas on your campus to see if any spark your interest.

6. Ask other students. Peers are a great resource. Seek out students in the major that you are considering and ask them questions. What do they enjoy about the major? What is the biggest challenge? Do they recommend it? Why or why not?

7. Visit the Advising Center. Academic advisors have a wealth of knowledge and can help you identify the major that may be a great fit for you. They have a deep understanding of the curriculum, and they can tell you if you have already taken classes that might meet the requirements of a certain major.

It’s All About Relationships

Relationships

My favorite fortune

A short trip down memory lane takes me back to the small liberal arts college where I earned my undergraduate degree and to the two large public institutions where I earned my advanced degrees. While I am grateful for the technological advances that allowed me to email my professors, upload my assignments, and research my dissertation through the library’s online catalog, the experiences I remember most are my conversations and interactions with faculty.

My first psychology professor was a young doctoral student named Dr. Swan from the adjacent graduate school. She was recently married and just establishing herself as a faculty member. She was someone I could relate to and wanted to emulate. I hung on her every word, dissected her wardrobe, listened intently for clues about her life as a new wife and mother, and basically remembered very little about the developmental life stages and Freudian theory.

Fastforward ten years. My dissertation committee chair was a leading researcher in special education and disabilities. He held high positions in organizations leading the way in this field. He advised countless doctoral students, yet always gave me his full attention. After spending hours editing my dissertation and pouring over each chapter while being mindful of his critiques, what do I remember most about my committee chair? He taught in a hospital in Malawi, raised two daughters, bred golden retrievers, and liked to wear Hawaiian shirts.

I remember the personalities of my professors more than the equations, formulas, and theories they lectured about for hours. When I hear students talking about taking a class from a well-known professor, I know they are often drawn to the professor’s character more than the class content. Powerpoints, digital projectors, laptops, and wireless internet are powerful tools but they can’t replace the people behind them.

Students can find the answer to almost any question with a simple Google search. Our challenge as educators is to help them understand which questions to ask. And that happens in relationship – the way we model critical thinking, our response to complex social issues, and our commitment to life long learning. The information students need is already at their fingertips, but the transformation that takes place in higher education still requires a human connection.

6 Strategies for Helping Parents (without violating FERPA)

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Parents are important partners in supporting student success. They are also part of our university family. I enjoy interacting with parents and encourage them to contact me if they have questions. However, due to FERPA privacy laws I am restricted in how much information I can share with parents.

Here are six strategies I use to help parents when they have a student in crisis or in need of support:

1. Provide information about campus policies and deadlines. When a student or family is in crisis, knowing their options can relieve the pressure of the situation. I frequently explain course and term withdrawal policies, medical leave of absence deadlines, and options for taking incompletes. Many parents have questions about what will happen to a student’s on-campus housing if the student is no longer enrolled full time or takes time off during the year. Information can empower them to make informed decisions.

2. Give information on campus resources. Again, information can be empowering. There are many resources available for students and parents. With knowledge of these resources, parents can encourage their student to pursue a tutor, talk to a counselor, seek out an academic advisor, apply for disability resources, or visit an instructor during office hours. There are also resources specifically for parents, often called Parent & Family Programs, which help parents get connected with the university.

3. Share in generalities. I may not be able to talk about the specifics of a student, but I can share my approach to handling different situations. For example, if a parent asks whether her student came to see me about a roommate conflict I can explain how I would handle the situation without disclosing whether or not I met with the student. I might says, “Typically I ask the student about the situation and notifying Housing if it is occurring on campus. I may also ask the other student to meet with me. If the issue involves safety, I would notify campus police to check on the situation.”

4. Share tips for communicating with college-aged students. It can be helpful to explain to parents that this is a time when young people naturally seek independence and choose to find their own solutions. Parents might consider having a conversation with their student about how often a student will check-in with a parent to reassure the parent that he is ok. If a parent is paying for the student’s tuition, it might also be reasonable to ask for some assurance that the student is progressing academically.

5. Ask questions! I may not be able to disclose much information, but the sky is the limit on what parents can share with me. I ask parents, “Is this unusual behavior for your child?” “What is he like?” “What has he told you about his experiences here?” This helps me assess whether there has been a change in the student’s behavior and/or how much he is disclosing to his parents. This can also be helpful in determining the relationship between the parent and student.

6. Provide words of encouragement. It makes a difference to parents when they hear that other students have experienced similar situations and been successful. I frequently tell parents, “There are many paths to success.” It makes a difference to parents when they hear that other students have experienced similar situations and been successful. I frequently tell parents, “There are many paths to success.” If a parent has shared about the student, I may focus on the strengths of the student and say “From what you have described, it sounds like your student has tremendous potential” or “I hear that your daughter has great self-awareness.”

I do not share any FERPA protected information with parents, including confirming or denying whether a student is enrolled, a students academic performance, where a student lives, or whether I have contacted a student. There have been exceptions in situations when a student is an imminent threat of harm to self or others. A student does have the option to sign an information release agreement if he/she would like a parent to have more information.