Integrating Public Benefits Into Campus Services and Financial Aid to Facilitate College Completion, 2:30 - 3:30 pm

By Erin Timmons, Communications Staff 

Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) kicked off this Tuesday afternoon session by sharing a jarring statistic. “Eighty-five percent of students who left college [before obtaining a degree] did so because they needed to earn money to attend school or they couldn’t afford tuition,” she told attendees.

While community college tuition and fees are relatively low, these costs represent only a small portion of the cost of attendance and students are sometimes left with thousands of dollars of unmet need.

CLASP has been working with a variety of institutions across the country and at the state and federal government levels to try to figure out “a way to make financial aid more comprehensive," Duke-Benfield said. "...And that means thinking about additional financial resources that are out there to support students in their aspirations to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to go to college,” she added. In doing so, CLASP developed a hypothesis: Providing students who are struggling to make ends meet with information about public benefits and assistance in applying for them will improve student success and college completion.

In 2012, seven community colleges in six states in set out to test this theory by developing and implementing sustainable models to increase students’ financial stability by connecting more students to public benefits. The two and a half year long initiative – managed by CLASP and the American Association of Community Colleges ­– sought to reduce students’ unmet financial need and help them finish school using by educating them about programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Medicaid, for example.

In the Tuesday session, representatives from two of the seven schools – Angela Johnson of Cuyahoga Community College Eastern Campus and Gail Baksh-Jarrett of La Guardia Community College ­­– shared with attendees the ways in which they’ve leveraged financial aid data, resources, and technology to expand financial options to support student success.

Students may not know to ask about benefits, so it’s important to train your financial aid staff on how to know who may be eligible and to proactively tell students about benefits if it looks like they may qualify, the presenters stressed. Aside from just lack of information and misinformation about eligibility, there are a number of other reasons students may not take advantage of benefits. Applying can be time-consuming and frustrating, students may feel there’s a stigma attached to utilizing these programs, and most importantly, Duke- Benfield pointed out, higher education and public benefits policies aren’t well aligned.

There are, however, a number of ways colleges can help students to access public benefits, the presenters said, including:

  • Inform students about the existence of programs;
  • Help students understand how to apply;
  • Screen students to determine if they are eligible and assist them to apply;
  • Assist students to provide needed documentation and understand any barriers to eligibility ;
  • Follow-up with benefits programs/local offices to troubleshoot on behalf of individual students; and
  • Advocate for policy changes that streamline benefits receipt for students.

Read more about the initiative in CLASP’s newly published Benefits for College Completion: Lessons Learned from a Community College Initiative to Help Low-Income Students report.


Publication Date: 7/12/2016

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