About The Hope Center

The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice is redefining what it means to be a student-ready college with a national movement centering #RealCollege students’ basic needs. We believe that students are humans first. Their basic needs for food, affordable housing, transportation, and childcare, and their mental health are central conditions for learning.

Our projects have a three-part life cycle. First, using rigorous research, we develop and evaluate creative approaches to solving challenges of practice, policy, and public perception. Second, our scientists work closely with thinkers and doers to ensure that effective implementations are enacted and scaled. Third, we spur systemic change by igniting a fire to engage others in taking advantage of what we have learned. Maximum impact is our ultimate goal.

Our Strategic Plan: 2020-2022

In order to advance the necessary systemic changes to support #RealCollege students’ needs, our work over the next two years will focus on four pillars: action research, engagement and communication, advocacy, and sustainability.

Action Research 

We conduct scientifically rigorous and practice-informed action research that explores poorly understood problems affecting #RealCollege students and examine the efficacy of interventions to support them.

In order to do this, we establish and maintain strategic partnerships that emphasize credible findings and survey methods, pursue action-oriented, stakeholder-engaged research, and advance the field(s) of inquiry.   Our current focus is on research studies that identify areas for improvement and/or evaluate existing practices aimed at addressing #RealCollege issues.

Engagement and Communication

We learn from lived experience and support people on the front lines of #RealCollege work. Our goal is to help them engage in preventive and responsive practices rather than rely solely on reactive and charitable approaches.

To that end, we offer technical assistance to institutional decision-makers, faculty, staff, students, policymakers (local, state, and federal), journalists, community organizations, philanthropists, and advocates. We pay special attention to the open and broad-access colleges and universities serving the vast majority of #RealCollege students, and to minority-serving institutions. Via coalitions and strategic partnerships, we build and implement strategies to provide students viable, effective, and sustainable college and community programming.


We fight for the resources and supports that help #RealCollege students succeed by igniting and sustaining a movement that will eventually move without us. We accomplish this goal by instigating and supporting campaigns for systemic change and informing state and federal policy.

We prioritize influencer engagement (students, policy makers, practitioners). We also seek to build the capacity of students to effectively advocate and engage colleges and legislators.


Our team members demonstrate why #RealCollege matters: we have collectively lived the challenges of navigating government bureaucracy and cash-strapped colleges, experienced the trauma and perils of living without financial stability, and experienced marginalization along nearly every possible line.  We are taking steps towards ensuring the continued alignment of our team with the work that we do.

We are also committed to ensuring that the #RealCollege movement is lasting and deeply ingrained in the field, growing roots beyond the Hope Center’s foundational work.  We seek to grow the next generation of #RealCollege leaders, and building the capacity of institutions to carry on this work.

Our Evolution

Founded in 2013 with a gift from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation, we began as the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. At the time of our launch, the higher education community had begun talking about challenges affecting college access and degree completion, particularly racial disparities.  Still, discussions of college costs were limited to rising tuition, conversations about students’ challenges in college centered on remedial education, and institutional practices remained unevaluated.

Over the next five years our research drew the public’s attention to the living costs that make it so hard for students to focus on college. We documented a crisis of food and housing insecurity and worked to address these challenges by improving institutional practice and policy.  Featured in the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, and appearing on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, our efforts attracted more than $12 million in philanthropic support, influenced more than two dozen pieces of state and federal legislation, produced a best-selling book, and spun off a nonprofit that is providing emergency aid to students around the country. We also trained more than 45 students and created new partnerships with researchers, advocates, practitioners, and policymakers around the country to strengthen and amplify our work.

In 2018, we moved our work to Philadelphia and joined Temple University to refocus our strategy to recognize the complexity of the challenges facing today’s students.

Statement of Independence

The Hope Center employs research methods that are scientifically sound and engage in research and related activities that advance our mission and values. The independence of our research and related activities is essential to maintaining the highest standards of integrity and quality. Moreover, this independence is essential to achieving our goals, as it is critical that our statements can be trusted to be the result of credible research.

We engage our funders through a range of stewardship activities, including events, meetings, roundtables, forums, conferences, books and other publications, and specialized communications. We may receive input from funders as well as advocates, policymakers, and other interested stakeholders on different aspects of our research and related activities, but we make the final decisions on conclusions and recommendations. We present our findings completely and objectively, through our reports, as well as expert testimony, conversations with the media, public events, and other forums. We believe that our greatest value to funders is the high quality, independent research we produce.

Note: Our founding director, Sara Goldrick-Rab, is also Chief Strategy Officer for Emergency Aid at Edquity, a private company, where she is a paid consultant and holds stock. The terms of this arrangement have been reviewed and approved by Temple University.

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