A New Partnership Tackles College Students’ Housing And Food Insecurities
Hobsons, one of the nation’s leading educational technology companies, is teaming up with Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice to study and battle the growing problems of food and housing insecurity among college students. The partnership was announced July 30, 2019 under the banner Starfish Project Hope, reflecting the combination of Hobsons’ Starfish Enterprise Success module with the research and action agenda of the Hope Center.
Starfish is Hobsons’ student success and advising platform now in use at nearly 500 colleges and universities enrolling more than six million students. It employs data analytics to onboard students at their schools, and as part of that process, identify those who come to be at risk for dropping out of school. It provides key information to advisors, faculty and the students themselves to help students get back – or stay – on track for college completion.
Through an integrated suite of early alerts, prompted connections with advisors and faculty, degree planning, and best-practice interventions, Starfish aims to get accurate student information in the hands of advisors and the heads of campus leaders so they can help students follow guided pathways to graduation and reduce the obstacles to completion pinpointed for a given student.
The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice is a research and action center founded by Sara Goldrick-Rab, one of the nation’s most widely cited scholars on socioeconomic inequalities in higher education. Launched in 2013 at the University of Wisconsin, the Center moved to Temple in 2018 after Goldrick-Rab, the 2018 winner of of the University of Louisville’s Grawemeyer award for Education, left Wisconsin for a faculty position at Temple.
The number of students suffering insecurity in basic needs such as of food and housing has become a growing concern on college campuses. Although estimates about the scope of the problem range widely – from less than 10% to more than 50% – few researchers studying the problem dispute that it has become a serious campus concern and a threat to thousands of students’ success in college.
Campus leaders have taken notice of the problem. From campus food pantries to college-provided temporary housing, institutions are pitching in with emergency services and financial resources to assist students struggling with hunger or homelessness.
The search for how best to address students’ basic needs insecurities is what led to the Starfish-Hope Center collaboration. In the words of Howard Bell, Starfish GM, “Educational goals take a backseat when students are unable to support their own basic food and housing needs. We are extremely proud to partner with the Hope Center to give our institutions the ability to identify and support these students in need and help them reach their academic goals.”
Beginning in the Spring, 2020 semester, institutions using Starfish will be able to expand their student intake surveys with approximately 35 new questions (e.g., have you lost weight because of not enough money for food; have you not paid the full amount of a utility bill) developed by Hope Center staff to identify students in need of additional support regarding adequate food and housing.
Bell anticipates that the enhanced survey, which will be provided at no extra cost to participating colleges, will enable schools build more and stronger supports for vulnerable students, thereby preventing dropouts caused by the crush of not knowing where your next meal is coming from or whether you’ll have a roof over your head. He also expects that colleges will see a positive bump in retention and graduation rates as they refine various interventions to bolster students’ resiliency and resources.
Gathering and using student information of this type are sensitive matters, fraught with legal concerns and the need for privacy protection. Starfish data, like other information collected for predictive analytics, is subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), but students’ full trust and participation in the necessary information gathering will occur only in institutions that treat their disclosures with careful respect and diligent care. That’s an essential institutional obligation, one upon which the success of Project Hope and similar efforts will depend.