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Community College Group to Help Member Schools Offer Food, Services to Students

Many students drop out of college for nonacademic reasons, and the Michigan Community College Association wants that to stop. Using grant money, MCCA will help member schools provide services—like food pantries and community connection hubs—to keep students enrolled.

While many think students drop out of college because they can’t handle the academic work, research shows that for most students, it is issues like lack of finances and related struggles (work/school balance and access to childcare ) that cause them to drop out. That’s the reason why the Michigan Community College Association will use a grant it recently received to address the needs that would otherwise force students to leave school.

“A lot of the national evidence suggests students leave for reasons other than academics: affordable housing, childcare, access to food, lack of transportation,” said Erica Lee Orians, Ph.D., executive director of MCCA’s Michigan Center for Student Success. “Our motivation for pursuing this is, many of our colleges started building food pantries because they recognized there was a great need.”

MCCA received a $442,000 ECMC Foundation grant aimed at providing for basic needs. The first thing the group will do as part of its Michigan Building Economic Stability Today (Mi-BEST) initiative is survey member colleges to find out what they need.

“It’s a self-assessment, or an inventory, of what they feel like their students’ greatest needs are,” Orians said. “We have 28 community colleges. Some are in dense, urban areas; some are in rural areas, where students travel up top 50 minutes. We really want to understand what the needs are and what community services could be helpful.”

Once the surveys are complete, MCCA member campuses can look at the data and come up with solutions that best fit their communities and students. Campuses will also work with community leaders to learn what area resources are available to students and how they can get access to government services they are eligible for. “We will be building relationships with community-based organizations,” Orians said.

Additionally, colleges will work across campus departments. “This isn’t just a financial aid issue,” Orians said. “We will have a cross-functional team of executive leadership, faculty, fundraising, advising, to build stronger referrals to public benefits. We also plan to develop a screening process to identify issues before they happen. Where might the college be able to suggest resources prior to it becoming a crisis for the student?”

Because many campuses already have food pantries for students, Orians said Mi-BEST will allow campuses to expand those areas into a “highly visible hub” where students can access all the information and services they need—whether they are campus-, community-, or government-based.

Orians said most MCCA member schools have signed up to participate in Mi-BEST. “Some of our colleges are very, very excited about this,” she said. “This is an issue that they have been struggling with for a long time, and one of the things that we do is give them a forum to learn from each other. They don’t have to come up with these ideas on their own.”

(RapidEye/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a senior editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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