Toolkit: Solving Today’s Students’ Food, Housing, And Basic Needs Insecurities - A Basic Needs Policy Toolkit For Today’s Students To Succeed (Higher Learning Advocates)


In October 2023, Higher Learning Advocates (HLA) issued its 22-page Toolkit to identify critical barriers to student success: Back to Basics: Solving Today's Students' Food, Housing, and Basic Needs Insecurities - A Basic Needs Policy Toolkit for Today's Students to Succeed.

The Toolkit proposes federal policy changes in seven areas informed by research that can empower students to support meeting their basic needs:

  1. Creating and funding a permanent emergency aid structure for students with unexpected financial challenge.
  2. Expanding eligibility and streamlining Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for students pursuing higher learning.
  3. Increasing funding for campus mental health programs.
  4. Making broadband subsidies permanent and expanding rural broadband access.
  5. Incentivizing collaboration between public transit providers and higher education institutions.
  6. Expanding eligibility for the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program to fulltime students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.
  7. Providing incentives to encourage non-expansion states to expand Medicaid coverage and extend temporary affordable care subsidies for marketplace insurance plans.


The Toolkit responds to research that shows that 60 percent of college students experienced insecurity in meeting their basic needs, such as housing and food, and that many of the federal safety net policies that have been designed to support Americans in need were not created with today’s postsecondary students in mind.

Many of “today’s students” (see definition below) work while they are enrolled in higher education. They face many steep challenges that can affect their ability to dedicate enough time and resources to completing their college coursework.

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored these challenges. Over a half million students relied on on-campus Federal Work-Study jobs to make ends meet, and many struggled with unmet basic needs like medical bills, transportation, and moving expenses.

Financial uncertainty impacts learners in major ways, including their very well-being and student success. Congress temporarily created a series of supports to help students during the Pandemic such as direct emergency aid, expanding benefits eligibility, and emergency broadband support. As these other supports are phased back or discontinued, attention to permanent and continuing supports are needed.

Higher Learning Advocates

HLA is a nonprofit higher education policy research and advocacy organization dedicated to advancing bipartisan solutions that support today’s students, connect opportunity, and drive value in postsecondary education.

HLA Definition of Today’s Students

Today’s students are more diverse in age, race, and income level than any previous generation of college students. They’re more mobile and may not live on campus. Most participate in the workforce, either full-time or part-time. Work and family responsibilities beyond the classroom—whether learning on campus or online—often influence students’ educational goals. Competing priorities and added responsibilities also mean many students struggle to meet their basic needs.


Burt, C. (2022, October). “Report: Emergency funds saved college students from stopping out.”  University Business.

National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. (2022, October). “National Student Aid Profile: Overview of 2022 Federal Programs.

The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. (2021, March).  “The Hope Center Survey 2021: Basic Needs Insecurity During the Ongoing Pandemic.”

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