In 2013 we founded the Wisconsin HOPE Lab to conduct action research on ways to make college more affordable. Over the first five years we highlighted the cost of living burden that can make it so difficult for students to remain focused on learning. We both documented the growing crisis caused by food and housing insecurity and worked to address those challenges by improving institutional practice and policy. And we got results. The New York Times and the Washington Post featured our research, as did the Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Our efforts garnered more than $12 million in philanthropic support, impacted more than two dozen pieces of state and federal legislation, produced a best-selling book, and spawned a nonprofit that provides emergency aid to students around the country. But we didn’t solve the problem. Yet. Students and colleges are still struggling, so we’re still working. We’re not going to miss a shot to do even more to help.
That’s why our next move is so exciting: On September 29 we will evolve into the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. Based at the College of Education at Temple University, Philadelphia’s urban-serving public institution, we will continue the work to change public perceptions of today’s college students and reshape higher education policy and practice. Our researchers will work hand in hand with practitioners and communication professionals to ensure that everything we produce is timely, relevant, and accessible. Check out our new website for info on our inaugural board, leadership team, and supporters, as well as how you can help.
In April we released Still Hungry and Homeless in College, the largest and most comprehensive study of food and housing insecurity at the nation’s colleges and universities. The report contains findings from 43,000 student surveys at 66 community colleges and universities in 20 states and the District of Columbia. We learned that 36% of university students and 42% of community college students had been food insecure in the prior 30 days. In the previous year, 36% of university students and 46% of community college students had been housing insecure, and 9% of university students and 12% of community college students had been homeless.
On the day of its release, the Washington Post published an article covering our report and NPR’s All Things Considered discussed the findings. The Associated Press, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, Salon, and MarketWatch also provided coverage in the U.S., while overseas media outlets in Vietnam and France had coverage, as did BBC Mundo. On campuses, students led discussions of their basic needs. Opinion pieces ran in student newspapers at the University of Michigan, the University of Iowa, the University of Massachusetts, and Northeastern Illinois University. The report also received attention on social media. Salvation Army USA and Tricia Raikes, of the Raikes Foundation, tweeted links to coverage of the report. Actress Viola Davis posted a link to the NPR segment on her Facebook page. U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin tweeted, “A startling study out of the @wihopelab. Students shouldn’t have to decide between eating dinner and paying for textbooks.”
Hope For The Future
The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice will grow the #RealCollege movement, whose third-annual conference will be held September 29–30, in conjunction with the center’s launch (register now). Our next national survey is also underway and includes the State University of New York and the City University of New York, as well as the California Community Colleges. Recognizing that students are the real leaders of this effort, the #Voices4Change campaign is giving them the opportunity to share stories and affect positive change.
Rigorous research continues to form the core of our work. Two newly released working papers revisit the students featured in Sara Goldrick-Rab’s Paying the Price ten years after they started college. The first paper documents the impact of the Fund for Wisconsin Scholar’s need-based grants on college major choice, finding that reducing their financial constraints boosted the numbers of students studying science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) fields. The second paper re-examines early impacts on college persistence and attainment in conjunction with other cohorts of students also supported by the Fund. For those students featured in Paying the Price, the grant accelerated time-to-degree and affected field of study, but did not increase overall completion rates. However, the program exhibited improvements, especially when it came to increasing degree completion over six years for more recently matriculated students. On the other hand, while the program delivered financial aid (albeit with less purchasing power) to students at two-year colleges, positive impacts on their educational outcomes were not detected. This uncommonly rigorous longitudinal assessment adds to the growing body of evidence that dollars delivered via traditional financial aid programs are exhibiting inconsistent effects when it comes to ameliorating students’ financial challenges.
The evidence and conversation initiated by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab is enhanced and carried on by those we have taught and trained. We offered learning opportunities and research training to 39 graduate students and six postdoctoral fellows. They are now bringing that experience to academic, philanthropic, and policy work across the country, at institutions such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Valley State University, Northwestern University, RAND Corporation, Shippensburg University, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the University of Iowa, the University of Southern California, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau.
We thank you for your support of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab and its mission during the past five years. The Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation planted the seeds and we grew stronger thanks to numerous institutional partners, policymakers, students, and of course our many other funders.