New legislation in California will give community colleges access to more funding for emergency grants designed to help students continue their education in the event of unexpected financial challenges.
Assembly Bill 943 opens the state's $475.2 million Student Equity and Achievement Program to provide such assistance, which it notes could include students' immediate need for shelter and food.
The two-year colleges are tasked with developing specific guidelines for what is eligible for such a grant and are encouraged to consider "the unique characteristics of its student body" when doing so.
The legislation comes as institutions face a growing body of research that indicates issues students face outside the classroom can have a major impact on their ability to persist.
"With the cost of education as high as it is, many students are just one financial crisis away from being forced to drop out of school," said David Chiu, a state representative from San Francisco who authored the bill, in a press release. "We want to give students who experience an emergency a bit of stability so they can continue their studies."
Seven in 10 community college students were food or housing insecure in the last year, according to a national survey from the Hope Center published earlier this year. The study found that four in 10 two-year college students were both food and housing insecure during that period. A slightly smaller share of four-year students reported food or housing insecurity (61%) or both (30%) in the past year.
Meanwhile, other surveys show students, particularly those at two-year colleges, often struggle to balance responsibilities outside of school, which can include work and family life.
Institutions can help these students by connecting them with public benefits and being more clear about how much they can expect to pay to attend.
However, offering additional need-based aid can be more effective in helping students afford college than can such temporary supports, according to a recent report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy.
Some colleges have begun adding grants for nontuition expenses to their financial aid packages, and others have supported raising the amount of Pell grants students can receive.
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