Benefits Access for College Completion: Lessons Learned from a Community College Initiative to Help…

Author(s): Duke-Benfield, Amy Ellen and Saunders, Katherine.

Organizational Author(s): Center for Law and Social Policy

Funding Source: Lumina Foundation

Resource Availability: Publically available

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Summary

Presents implementation findings from an analysis of the Benefits Access for College Completion initiative whose goal was to link eligible low-income students with public benefits to reduce unmet financial need and improve college completion rates.

Description

“The Benefits Access for College Completion (BACC) initiative was a multi-year initiative designed to provide community college students with access to a full range of public benefits in order to reduce financial barriers to college completion” (p.4). Benefits include food assistance, child care subsidies, assistance for mothers and children, cash assistance, subsidized health insurance, housing assistance, and transportation assistance. The goal was to develop “strategies for integrating services into existing community college operations to help eligible low-income students…access public benefits. The efforts…ranged from providing students with accurate information about benefits to screening them for program eligibility, assisting them with enrollment…[and] changing policies” (p.4).

“The BACC initiative tested the hypothesis that by closing the gap in unmet financial need, access to public benefits can help support students’ college persistence and completion, leading to success in the workforce. Starting in late 2011, seven community colleges were funded to develop, implement, and embed benefits access strategies into their college operations: Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, OH; Gateway Community and Technical College in Covington, KY; LaGuardia Community College in Queens, NY; Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, MI; Macomb Community College in Warren, MI; Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA; and Skyline College in San Mateo, CA….[Together,] [t]hey enroll over 100,000 students, with one-third of students eligible for the maximum Pell Grant, which is a good proxy of whether students might be eligible for public benefits” (p.5).

The report describes each college’s approach to providing benefits and recounts project and technical assistance lessons learned. The authors summarize key findings from an evaluation of the initiative, for which the “evaluation team collected data through in-depth field work at [five of colleges] with interviews of key college stakeholders and intermediaries” (p.29).

“From summer 2012 through summer 2014—the time students were served through the initiative— approximately 2,200 students across five of the colleges engaged in the evaluation…applied for one or more public benefits, and 1,354 received public benefits” (p. 6).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Full publication title: Benefits Access for College Completion: Lessons Learned from a Community College Initiative to Help Low-Income Students

Major Findings & Recommendations

“Ultimately, the seven colleges embedded benefits services into different aspects of their institutional operations and activities.…[S]ome chose to embed the majority of services in a stand-alone department or office that was co-located with other services important to low-income students, while others integrated these activities in existing functions of the college. Although no two efforts were identical, the colleges found that increasing access to public benefits was more effective when combined with other services in which students already automatically engage, such as financial aid, counseling, and advising.

Institutions are not necessarily designed to provide students with the kind of detailed information and personalized assistance necessary to get them enrolled in public benefits programs. This work can require a new culture, new infrastructure, supportive staff, and community-based partnerships to expand capacity. It also requires the support of leadership and inclusion among the college’s strategic priorities. The level of success colleges had with integrating and sustaining benefits access was dependent upon a handful of key factors.…They are:
• The role of institutional leadership in fostering buy-in and success
• Changes in student flow and business processes
• Actions to overcome cultural barriers within the institution
• The capacity to produce and use data
• The importance of collaboration and teamwork within the colleges
• New relationships with local and state benefits agencies
• The need to overcome student stigma” (p.15).

The report also includes key evaluation findings from five of the seven colleges:
• “Benefits access services should be provided though a highly visible and well-known centralized hub with knowledgeable staff” (p.29).
• “Colleges should implement models that require students to ‘opt-out’ of benefits services by connecting initial pre-screening steps to existing students support services such as advising and financial aid” (p.29).
• “Leadership at multiple levels and across all departments needs to recognize benefits access services as an institution-wide priority and enact policies and practices necessary to support the institutionalization of benefits access services on campuses” (p.29).
• “[B]enefits access can have a positive impact on students’ academic progress toward degree completion, especially for students who bundle multiple benefits while enrolled” (p.30).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

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Publication Date: 2016
Posted: 10/11/2017 6:34 PM
Posted In: Workforce System Strategies
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