The Hope Center

The #RealCollege Theory of Change

Developed by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice (“Hope Center”) at Temple University, the #RealCollege model is an innovative, transformative conceptual framework for understanding how to improve students’ access to, persistence in, progress through, and successful completion of postsecondary education. It focuses on enrollment and success at broad access and minority-serving institutions as together they serve most of today’s students. They also contribute greatly to the social mobility of traditionally underserved populations who constitute the new collegiate majority: #RealCollege students.

College student hunger and homelessness used to be an invisible problem—but, over the last five years, that has changed thanks in large part to the research, scholarship, and advocacy of the #RealCollege movement.

John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education and CEO, Education Trust

The operating principle behind the #RealCollege model is that students must Maslow before they Bloom (Riegel 2020). In other words, student learning cannot truly occur unless and until students’ basic needs are met.

The term, basic needs, is used to denote equitable access to:

  • nutritious and sufficient food;
  • safe, secure, and adequate housing (to sleep, study, cook, and shower);
  • healthcare to promote sustained mental and physical well-being;
  • affordable transportation;
  • affordable technology;
  • resources for personal hygiene care; and
  • childcare and related needs.

When basic needs are satisfied, students are considered basic needs secure. As with adults outside of postsecondary education, meeting students’ basic needs require an ecosystem where multiple systems work together to support students. This collaboration across domains allows individuals to thrive across multiple domains including academic achievement and economic and mental well-being. Basic needs insecurity, on the other hand, indicates a shortcoming in this ecosystem. The whole person is not addressed and, as such, the achievement of desired academic outcomes, which are well-established to improve economic stability and other life outcomes, is threatened (Chan 2016; Pallas 2000; Ross & Mirowsky 1999; Rowley & Hurtado 2003).

Basic needs insecurity is not an individual characteristic or failing and tackling insecurity requires a new, innovative approach. Like the community schools movement, which relies on the full community to meet students’ needs to support academic success, #RealCollege takes a holistic research approach to breaking the cycle of poverty by naming and addressing its effects on education.