#AdvocateFirstgen: Taking Action to Support Students’ Basic Needs

The Center / August 03, 2021

Rethinking Financial Aid

The COVID-19 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 internet deserts were amplified as institutions of higher education transitioned to solely virtual environments. The United States Congress addressed these needs through the CARES Act, which provided for emergency funds to help students address financial emergencies that could negatively affect their ability to complete their degrees. 

The federal funding targeted a specific set of financial difficulties. These economic challenges will continue to exist for many students as institutions anticipate a return to “normal” operations. Yet, many first-generation and low-income students experience other financial challenges that can impede their education. Many colleges and universities have realized that students experience unexpected financial crises that require relatively small amounts of funding to remedy. To address these growing needs, many institutions are creating emergency aid programs. NASPA’s Landscape Analysis of Emergency Aid Programs outlines a number of approaches for addressing student needs, which range from purchasing a new tire (that enables the student to continue traveling to campus), additional funds to supplement use of a campus food pantry, or payment for utilities.

Having access to #EmergencyAid, whether funded by institutions, state, or federal governments, can help students continue their higher education uninterrupted through emergencies.

Several opportunities exist to #AdvocateFirstgen and take action to support students’ basic needs. The Center for First-generation Student Success is a member of the Today’s Students Coalition, a cross-cutting group of policy, advocacy, and membership organizations who have joined forces to push for urgently needed policy changes that will better serve today’s students. Through the coalition, you have the opportunity to participate in a campaign to tell your member of Congress to support college students’ emergency aid needs by completing a fast and easy-to-use form. Adding a personal story in the sample email text provides members of Congress with the “why” by explaining how you, as a constituent, are affected.

In addition, on Wednesday, August 4, 2021, from 1:00pm - 2:00pm ET, the Today’s Students Coalition will be hosting a Twitter chat focused on emergency aid for today's students. Job losses, medical bills, and lack of access to care are all examples of what the coalition refers to as #StudentStuffHappens. Having access to #EmergencyAid, whether funded by institutions, state, or federal governments, can help students continue their higher education uninterrupted through emergencies. Join the Today’s Students Coalition for a Twitter chat about how policy can provide relief.

Higher education professionals can familiarize themselves with opportunities for emergency aid that may be offered by their institution. Types of funding can include gap funding before financial aid funds are awarded, vouchers for campus purchase, and completion grants to cover small balances on a student account. Emergency aid funding is growing through institutional allocations and philanthropic funds; many of these funds are overseen by the Dean of Students or financial aid offices. Higher education professionals can also #AdvocateFirstgen by taking the time to learn about available resources and ensuring that students are aware through classroom announcements, references in a syllabus, and other modes of communication. 

By joining the existing advocacy campaign, increasing awareness through social media, and learning about and promoting campus resources, higher education professionals can take advantage of immediate options to #AdvocateFirstgen.

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