#AdvocateFirstgen with Federal Resources for Students' Basic Needs

The Center / February 01, 2022

Advocacy works! Last year, we described efforts to increase emergency aid to address financial and other challenges faced by many first-generation students. The CARES Act provided funding to address financial emergencies that could negatively affect students’ ability to complete their degrees. Efforts to share ongoing challenges that postsecondary students experience while working toward their degree resulted in new funding and guidelines for how the funds can be spent.  

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education announced additional resources for college students and higher education institutions to help reduce barriers to completion. The American Rescue Plan offers $198 million to support:

The Department of Education will open applications and prioritize community colleges and rural-serving institutions with high percentages of low-income students that have experienced enrollment declines. Many first-generation students fall into this category. Through the available funding, eligible institutions can apply the funds toward evidence-based practices to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, strategies for addressing students’ basic needs, approaches to support students’ continued enrollment and re-enrollment, erasing students’ institutional debts, and expanding programs offering training for in-demand jobs. 

The new funding and explicit expanded guidance will help many first-generation students address barriers to degree completion.

Of particular interest and application to many first-generation students is the Department of Education’s expanded guidance about the use of federal funding to address students’ basic needs such as food or housing insecurity, transportation, and childcare. The document outlines a wide variety of approaches that institutions can take to address basic needs and provides examples of how specific institutions used the funding to help their students. 

In addition, all higher education institutions will receive information outlining how they can use data from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to inform students about other public benefit programs for which they may qualify. The letter outlines a variety of programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Affordable Connectivity Program (which enables access to broadband service at an affordable rate), health insurance enrollment, unemployment insurance, and housing assistance. Many first-generation students may be eligible for such programs, and using FAFSA data will enable institutions to identify those who may qualify based on their financial situation. 

The new funding and explicit expanded guidance will help many first-generation students address barriers to degree completion. A recent study on students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University reported that fewer than half of those students who knew about emergency funds applied for those grants. Students who received funding used it toward basic needs such as  food, transportation, housing, and educational materials which enabled them to reduce stress and remain enrolled. 

Supporters of first-generation and low-income students can continue to #AdvocateFirstgen by:

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.