The Hope Center

The #RealCollege Virtual Journey

Across the nation, college enrollment and retention are falling and students are struggling to meet their basic needs. The #RealCollege Virtual Journey– sponsored by Course Hero, Conagra Brands, and The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice- is an opportunity to build capacity and to meet this moment of global pandemic, historic inequality, and unprecedented public spending.

This creative re-envisioning of the annual #RealCollege convening, announced in January, offers higher education leaders and their communities critical support. Over a nine-month period beginning with our March 31st free kickoff, the Journey will provide participants with online workshops and engaging activities led by experts and delivered free of charge. 

Participants will engage in three paths, choosing their own adventures:

Path 1: Information and Inspiration. Learn about the latest evidence on basic needs insecurity during the pandemic and be inspired by leaders making change.
Path 2: Learning and Growing Evidence-Based Practices. Engage in developing advising, instruction, and related practices on and off campus to support students’ basic needs.
Path 3: Advocating for Change. Create sustainable systems change so that the higher education ecosystem is forever improved.

This year, #RealCollege will convene a Virtual Journey with topics supported by the latest research evidence. Each month will begin with an inspirational session, leading into workshops that highlight practice and policy to support students experiencing basic needs insecurities. Below is an outline of the Virtual Journey with thematic content curated throughout 2021 (dates to be determined for later events).



Wednesday, August 18, 3:00 p.m. ET


(Click on profiles to learn more)

Adam Harris

Clint Smith

Mark Huelsman

Path 1: “The State Must Provide,” a special event with author Adam Harris (Register)

Wednesday, August 25, 3:00 p.m. ET


(Click on profiles to learn more)

Keith Curry

Pam Luster

Mark Milliron

Path 2: Equity Avengers: Presidential Perspectives on Institutional Budgets (Register)

Path 3: The Free College Movement and Students’ Basic Needs (Register)


Tuesday, September 14, 3:00 p.m. ET

Path 1: In the Room Where it Happens: Featuring the #RealCollege SLAC (Register)

Wednesday, September 22, 3:00 p.m. ET

Path 2: Empowering Students to Lead Change (Register)

Path 3: Centering #RealCollege Students in Policy Agendas (Register)

OCTOBER: RETHINKING FINANCIAL AID. Webinars will delve into “What Affordability and Debt Mean Now: A Conversation with Josh Mitchell and Sara Goldrick-Rab;” “Promising Practices in Emergency Aid;” and “Reforming and Moving Beyond Title IV.”

NOVEMBER: REFLECTING AND PREPARING FOR 2022. This month, we will convene Town Halls to discuss what we learned on the Journey and to prepare for next year.

DECEMBER: CELEBRATION. The Hope Center will offer a Gala celebrating the accomplishments of participants in the #RealCollege movement.

Previous Events

Wednesday, March 31, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. ET

Path 1: Kickoff Event with Soledad O’Brien & Wes Moore (Watch Recording)


Wednesday, April 7, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. ET

Path 2: Bridging the Gap: Effectively Connecting Students to Basic Needs Supports (Watch Recording, Download Resources)

Path 3: Fighting for Change: Advancing a Federal Agenda for #RealCollege Students (Watch Recording, Resource 1, Resource 2)


Wednesday, May 12, 3:00-5:00 p.m. ET (Watch Recording)

Path 1: Pregnant Girl, a special event with author Nicole Lynn Lewis

Wednesday, May 19, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. ET (Watch Recording, Download Slides)

Paths 2 and 3 combined: Generations of Change: Supporting Parenting Students Through Campus-Based Resources and State and Federal Programs


Wednesday, June 2, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. ET

Path 1: Designing for Care with Jesse Stommel of Digital Pedagogy Lab & the #RealCollege SLAC (Watch recording)

Wednesday, June 9, 3:00- 4:30 p.m. ET

Path 2: How to Ungrade (Watch Recording)

Path 3: Investing in Community Colleges (Watch Recording)


Wednesday, June 30, 3:00 p.m. ET

Path 1: Explore racism and financial trauma with Hope Research Fellow Chloe McKenzie (Register) Postponed

Wednesday, July 14, 3:00 p.m. ET

Path 2: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in the Basic Needs Movement (Watch Recording)

Path 3: Work Requirements, Deservingness, and the Social Safety Net (Watch Recording)

Help Fund the Virtual Journey

The Hope Center for College, Community, Justice thanks our presenting sponsors Course Hero and Conagra Brands for generous sponsorship which helps students to achieve their dreams. This adventure is offered in collaboration with Believe in Students. We seek additional partners for the Virtual Journey. To get involved, please contact Chief of Staff Maureen Scully.

Watch Our Kickoff Event

The Journey kicked off on Wednesday, March 31, with a webinar featuring special guests, journalist and documentarian Soledad O’Brien and CEO and social entrepreneur Wes Moore. They were joined by The Hope Center’s President & Founder Sara Goldrick-Rab for a conversation on the implications of #RealCollege 2021: Basic Needs Insecurity During the Ongoing Pandemic and a discussion of our new #RealCollege survey report. The report was presented by Executive Director E. Christine Baker-Smith and Frederick Shegog of West Chester University, a member of The Hope Center’s first Student Leadership Advisory Council.

Sign up to receive more information about the #RealCollege Virtual Journey!

Adam Harris

Adam Harris is a staff writer at The Atlantic where he has covered education and national politics since 2018. He is the author of The State Must Provide, a narrative history of racial inequality higher education, published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. He was previously a reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education where he covered federal education policy and historically black colleges and universities. In 2021, he was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and he is a National Fellow at New America. His writing has appeared in BBC, B/R Mag, EBONY Magazine, and ProPublica.

Clint Smith

Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of the poetry collection Counting Descent, and the New York Times Bestseller work of nonfiction How the Word Is Passed. The poetry collection won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He has received fellowships from New America, the Emerson Collective, the Art For Justice Fund, Cave Canem, and the National Science Foundation. His writing has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. Born and raised in New Orleans, he received his B.A. in English from Davidson College and his Ph.D. in Education from Harvard University.

Pam Luster

Dr. Luster is in her tenth year as the president of San Diego Mesa College. Previously she served as the vice president of Student Services, interim vice president of Instruction, and dean of Academic Services at Las Positas College. At West Valley College, Dr. Luster held the position of dean of Career Education and Workforce Development and started her career as a faculty member/coordinator in the Disability and Educational Support Program. Currently, Dr. Luster serves as the president of the Chief Executive Officer of the California Community Colleges (CEOCCC) Board. She has partnered with Dr. Keith Curry, CEO of Compton College, to form The #EquityAvengers as they work together to transform equity in all forms in California community colleges and nationally. Focused on closing the outcome gaps of minority students, they host a weekly #EquityChat on Twitter interviewing equity-minded practitioners. Dr. Luster earned her BA and MA in Speech Pathology & Audiology from San Jose State University, and her Ed.D in Educational Leadership and Change from Fielding Graduate University. She has served for 8 years as adjunct lecturer at San Diego State University in the Community College Leadership doctoral program.