Research shows that many students in Massachusetts experience hunger and/or homelessness, as well as other types of basic needs insecurity that can serve as barriers to degree completion. In 2019, the DHE developed partnerships with other state agencies, campuses, and community-based organizations to create innovative solutions to student housing insecurity. In December 2020, Commissioner Santiago charged members of a Basic Needs Security Advisory Committee to make policy recommendations on how to address growing economic insecurity among students.
Director of Basic Needs Policy and Programs
2016 – Present
Massachusetts is among the first states to address food and housing insecurity among college students as a matter of intentional state-level public policy. Our goal is to create a national model of evidence-informed interventions and best practices to help students move from crisis to opportunity and self-sufficiency. Working across all three segments of the public higher education system and with its sister agencies in state government, the Department of Higher Education has:
The Department of Higher Education has convened a 22-member Basic Needs Security Advisory Committee to help DHE staff develop a strategic plan for addressing basic needs security among students attending Massachusetts public colleges and universities. The Committee's input and insights into basic needs security - food, housing, technology access, childcare and other essentials for student well-being - will help the DHE weigh options for moving from a series of pilot housing programs to a broader, more integrated approach to policy development.
At the direction of Massachusetts Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago, the Basic Needs Security Advisory Committee will review and assess economic barriers to retention and degree completion by students enrolled in the Commonwealth’s public higher education system, paying close attention to racial and geographical disparities evident in both qualitative and quantitative data. Recommendations should adhere and respond to both DHE’s mission and the goals of DHE’s Equity and Racial Justice agenda. The full text of the Commissioner’s charge to the group can be found here.
At its first meeting on December 11th, members looked at national data on basic needs insecurity among students, including racial disparities, and also learned about campus resources to combat hunger and homelessness. Members will meet again in January and March to formulate recommendations that will be used to develop a strategic plan for basic needs security response.
Pat Baker, Senior Policy Analyst | Mass Law Reform Institute
Lisa Carter, Director, Project Access | Roxbury Community College
JD Chesloff, Executive Director | The Massachusetts Business Roundtable (Member, Board of Trustees, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts)
Troy Fernandes, Housing and Education Coordinator | Wayside, Inc.
Racqucala N. Harvey, Student | Westfield State University
Deniz Leuenberger, Chief of Staff and Vice President, Strategy & Planning | Bridgewater State University
Catalina Lopez-Ospina, Director, Mayor’s Office of Food Access | City of Boston
Jacqueline Maloney, Chancellor | The University of Massachusetts at Lowell
Patricia Marshall, Deputy Commissioner for Academic Affairs and Student Success | Massachusetts Department of Higher Education
Clantha McCurdy, Senior Deputy Commissioner for Access and Student Financial Assistance | Massachusetts Department of Higher Education
Joan Meschino, State Representative (D-Hull) | 191st General Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Niki Nguyen, Student Trustee | Bunker Hill Community College (Member, Massachusetts Student Advisory Council)
Matt Noyes, Director, Trustee & Government Relations | Massachusetts Department of Higher Education
Kathleen O’Neill, Director, Single Stop | Bunker Hill Community College
Judy Pagliuca, Managing Partner | Pagsgroup (Member, Massachusetts Board of Higher Education)
Valerie Paric, Director | One Family, Inc.
Luis Pedraja, President | Quinsigamond Community College
Gia Plata-Nino, Staff Attorney | Central West Justice Center
Christina Royal, President | Holyoke Community College
Lourdes Soto, Chief of Parent & Community Engagement | Springfield Public Schools
Linn Torto, Executive Director, Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness | Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Andy Vargas, State Representative (D-Haverhill) | 191st General Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
The Massachusetts Student Housing Security Pilot, funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth, began at four residential campuses in January 2019 and has since grown to include campuses in six regions:
Each of the four-year institutions, in partnership with a local community college, has made up to ﬁve beds available to students identiﬁed by campus staﬀ as experiencing homelessness (defined as lacking an appropriate place to live, often residing in a shelter, automobile, abandoned building or outside). Campuses are being reimbursed by the state for the cost of the dorm bed occupancy for a full calendar year, including all summer and semester breaks. Campuses have agreed to cover meals and snacks for students. Community service providers, receiving additional grant funding from the Massachusetts Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth, work with pilot participants in each region to provide counseling, ﬁnancial literacy, and support for the search for permanent aﬀordable housing after graduation. The pilot will be rigorously evaluated for measures of eﬀectiveness regarding student well-being, retention and college completion.
Students must be:
In 2019, 13 Massachusetts public colleges and universities participated in an annual, national survey of student basic needs security administered by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University (formerly the HOPE Lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison). An aggregated view of individual campus results suggests little to no change in the percentages of Massachusetts students experiencing food or housing insecurity, while the percentage of students experiencing homelessness increased from 11.5% in 2018 to 17% in 2019.
“[We see] more students asking for emergency loans to pay living expenses and students trying to opt out of the meal plans to save money on their overall University bill.”
–University of Massachusetts Amherst Campus Official, 2016 Campus Survey
On May 11, 2018, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab jointly released the results of the first state-level study of food and housing insecurity and homelessness among college students. Massachusetts is the first state to team with HOPE Lab Founder Sara Goldrick-Rab and her team to look at these issues from a system level, with the goal of having the data inform policy interventions. As the Massachusetts report indicates, the state's results closely mirror the findings of a national HOPE Lab study, with a few critical exceptions, particularly in food and housing security between Hispanic students and non-Hispanic white students, where the differences were more pronounced than in the national sample.
44% of community college students reported some degree of food insecurity
At a time when private colleges have been luring students with sushi bars, fresh-tossed salads, and other increasingly lavish meals, Susan Benitez, 30, an Army veteran and student government president at Bunker Hill Community College, said the problem of housing and food insecurity is more widespread than many realize.
“There are days where I can’t even afford to buy a chip . . . and I know I can go up there [to the food pantry] to get bread,” said Benitez, who is graduating with two associate’s degrees and was just accepted to Stanford.
“You can’t study if you are hungry.”
24 out of 29 campuses
are aware of students
who are homeless
Most colleges said they have students living in shelters, cars, or on their friends' couches, and some described students living in coffee shops and fast-food restaurants, or outside in warmer weather.
“Quite frankly, it’s heartbreaking to know the kind of challenges they’re facing, and they still come to school, and they still try to succeed,” Patricia Gentile, president of North Shore Community College, told The Boston Globe.
Students: If you are looking for help but your school isn't listed, contact your campus' office of student services for more information.
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Bristol Community College
Mobile Food Market
Bunker Hill Community College
Cape Cod Community College
Family Pantry at Cape Cod CC
Greenfield Community College
GCC Food Pantry
Holyoke Community College
Mass Bay Community College
Student Nourishment & Care Committee
Massasoit Community College
Massasoit Food Pantry
Middlesex Community College
MCC Food Pantry
Mount Wachusett Community College
MWCC Food Pantry
Bridgewater State University
Food Bank 4 U
Framingham State University
Salem State University