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Centralized Access for Student Services and Why It Matters

Written By: Alex Rodriguez / Member of Student Coalition on Higher Education

Resource Access in Higher Ed: My Experience

As the former Student Body President at a Community College, I saw firsthand the limited access and knowledge students had of available resources such as health services, academic support, housing and more. One program, designed to help students pay for university application fees, saw less than 10 applications in a given cycle, submitted only by student government members and student employees working within the department. While the program was created to provide low-income students with the opportunity to explore other universities, the low application rate highlighted that students lacked the awareness of programs that were intended to support them. These challenges are exacerbated among first generation students, low-income students, and students of color. Only 14% of first-generation students sought out health services and academic support use from first generation students was only 30%. Across the board, first generation students utilized fewer resources than continuing generation students.

As a child of immigrant parents who immigrated to the U.S. with the hope of giving their children a better life, I faced hardships meeting basic needs in higher ed: difficulties paying for housing, food, and accessing financial aid. As a first-generation, low-income college student, I was not alone. My experience mirrored the stories of my peers who face disproportionate barriers in higher education. Time constraints and limited background knowledge of post secondary institutions are significant barriers, especially in times of need. And yet, while these systemic problems are recognized by higher education administrators, few solutions have been implemented to connect students with essential resources. To meet this challenge and advance student-centric-equity in higher ed, the Student Coalition For Higher Education created the Centralized Access for Student Services (CASS) project.

Centralized Access for Student Services

In an era marked by reliance on technology for basic functions, resources that are not easily accessible online likely won’t make it to their intended recipients. By partnering with students, higher education institutions, and community organizations, CASS was created to provide students with centralized access to social services and community resources online. It’s a framework that provides a pathway for colleges and universities to increase student access to basic needs resources by centering student voices in the decision-making process.

The CASS project outlines a student-led team, working in collaboration with higher education administrators to centralize access to student resources, especially for students in crisis. This includes making resources more accessible to all students – on-campus and virtual. By incorporating students into institutional decision making, institutions will better reflect student needs. One example is institutional investment in online learning modules such as canva or blackboard, which empowers students with an all-in-one access point for institutional and community resources such as housing assistance, food stamps, and mental health resources. Just as technological advances enable non-traditional students to be involved in higher ed, they can also serve as a gateway for students to access resources.

The MAPS Student Coalition on Higher Education recognizes that each institution is unique and faces its own challenges to engage students. We present that there needs to be a mindset change on how to get these resources to students. Students should be involved in the higher education decision making process, not just as a result of being enrolled but, because they understand the hardships and gaps in the systems created by institutions. Empowered students and programs designed with the assistance of students garner a better chance of success and a better utilization rate. CASS reiterates that programs should be created with students, and not just for students.

While universities often prioritize resources for traditional learners, which are post-secondary students under 25 years old who enroll directly from high school, attend full-time, and typically are socio-economically advantaged. On campus outreach has been the typical avenue to reach the majority of traditional students, up until the last few years remote or non-traditional students were in the minority. Programs such as food pantries, counseling, and housing insecurities typically have physical locations on campus. With changes to the student body, campus administrators should seek to better connect working students, non-traditional students**, and students in need with resources to improve their academic career. By acknowledging the diverse needs of students, colleges and universities will be better suited to help students meet these needs and achieve long-term success both in and outside of academia.

The CASS project will be publishing a framework for institutions to look holistically at the challenge of access to resources. Please stay tuned to the MAPS project social media, website, and newsletter to stay up to date on all publications.

**non-traditional student-a student who postponed post-secondary education until later in life (definition varies among institutions)

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