The #RealCollegeTexas Policy Initiative is a project to identify state policy and systems changes that will reduce basic needs insecurity among college students in Texas, improving their ability to academically thrive, graduate from college, and contribute to the Texas economy. Leaders from 14 institutions of higher education across Texas who previously participated in the Hope Center #RealCollegeTexas student survey have formed a task force to lead this initiative. With the Hope Center’s support in policy analysis, the task force will review policy options in eight key areas and distill them into an agenda for equitable policy reform. Furthermore, an advisory committee of leading experts and practitioners will provide input and feedback at each step of the process.
College students in Texas don’t have a moment to lose. A Hope Center survey of students at the 14 colleges participating in the RealCollegeTexas Policy Initiative found that more than four in ten had experienced food insecurity over the past year and one in six had been homeless. The COVID-19 pandemic had deeply affected them as well, with almost one in five reporting that they had lost a loved one to COVID and one in twelve saying that they had personally gotten sick with COVID-19.
The impact of widespread basic needs insecurity can be seen in students’ academic outcomes. Just under two-thirds of Texas students seeking a bachelor’s degree obtain any degree within six years. For students starting at a community or technical college, just over four in ten graduate with a degree in six years. Recognition is growing that basic needs insecurity undermines academic success at every level, and that what appear to be academic shortcomings often start with struggles over food, housing, child care, mental health, transportation, and more.
The RealCollegeTexas Policy Initiative will explore policies that can make a difference for students. Other states have found that a wide variety of measures, such as expanding eligibility for food, medical, and childcare benefit programs, subsidizing apartment rent, recognizing institutions that take action to ensure food security, and calling on institutions to provide evidence-based mental health supports can measurably improve students’ basic needs security, freeing them to devote their energies to academic study and engagement with the culture of learning.
Guided by on-the-ground leaders in higher education and basic needs security, the RealCollegeTexas Policy Initiative seeks to make concrete and durable changes in the college experience of Texas residents who aspire to a better life through higher education.