#AdvocateFirstgen by Supporting Extensions of COVID-related Policy Changes

The Center / October 05, 2021

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across society are well documented and continue to impact many sectors and industries. In postsecondary education, the pandemic highlighted the financial challenges that go beyond tuition for many college students, including first-generation students. Food and housing insecurities, access to healthcare, lack of affordable and reliable childcare, and lack of access to the internet were amplified as institutions of higher education transitioned to solely virtual environments.  

The United States Congress sought to address many of these needs through the CARES Act, which provided emergency funds to help students address financial emergencies that could negatively affect their ability to complete their degrees. A number of these measures were temporary and designed to fill transient gaps. As the pandemic persists, it is evident that continuing many of these temporary policies would benefit first-generation students. 

With NASPA and our partners in the Today’s Students Coalition, the Center for First-generation Student Success recently sent a letter to Congress requesting the continuation or expansion of several policies providing support. Highlights of the letter are included below.

Emergency Needs

The CARES act and subsequent relief packages authorized millions of dollars for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). This funding was provided to higher education institutions with directions to set aside a portion for student emergency aid. These funds were much needed as first-generation and other students suffered losses related to employment, such as job loss, reduced work hours, and loss of on-campus work study jobs. Emergency aid at many institutions is used to assist with transportation expenses and housing costs. These types of emergencies will not go away even if the pandemic comes to an end. Thus, implementing a permanent emergency aid grant program would allow postsecondary institutions to assist more students with these types of emergency needs. 

As the pandemic persists, it is evident that continuing many of these temporary policies would benefit first-generation students.

Limited Access to Broadband

For many first-generation students, their campus provides access to libraries, computer labs, and other connected spaces to help them complete their studies. When courses moved online in spring 2020 and continued for many into 2021, a number of first-generation students lost their primary source of internet services. Congress passed a temporary measure to expand broadband access to low-income households, which was important for many first-generation students. Expanding this access and making this benefit permanent would be a game-changer for many students, enabling them to find affordable options for access in their homes. 

Food Insecurity

While a return to an in-person campus experience may provide students in need with access to a campus food pantry, the 2021 appropriations bill expanded eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beyond its formerly narrow parameters. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, passed by Congress in December 2020, extended these benefits to students who are eligible for state or federally financed work study and students with an expected family contribution (EFC) of zero, as well as waived work and other requirements for those attending more than half time. 

By making these changes permanent, student eligibility would expand significantly. Reviewing whether work study eligibility or FAFSA completion could be linked to notification of potential eligibility for SNAP benefits could streamline the process and expand mechanisms for informing students.

What can you do to #AdvocateFirstgen on these issues?  
  1. Contact your Congressperson and Senators and let them know how making these benefits permanent would benefit first-generation students. 

  2. Share this information with first-generation student groups to help mobilize them to self-advocate for these important benefits. 

  3. Take to social media and share your concerns with your members of Congress. You can find your members’ Twitter handles by reviewing this list.

Sharing personal stories about the ways in which these policies help first-generation students to overcome challenges can be an effective strategy to spark action.

What strategies have helped you to champion first-generation students successfully? Share your perspective on first-generation student advocacy and pertinent policy issues across social media with #AdvocateFirstgen.