college student

Engagement & Discovery

Work in the Wisconsin HOPE Laboratory ranges from basic research to active dissemination. Engagement and discovery activities include interactive workshops with practitioners and students held in the field to identify problems and opportunities; site visits to schools and community-based organizations; focused workshops and conferences on specific topics and agendas; and the conduct of basic, descriptive research aimed at clarifying the challenges that might be addressed through intervention.

The Costs of Living While in College

As much as 70 percent of the cost of attending college comes from the need to cover living expenses so that students can focus on school.  But very little attention has been paid to how colleges and universities estimate their living cost allowances, how these change over time, and how accurate the allowances are when compared to living costs in the region surrounding the institution. These estimates are important because they affect both the sticker price of attending a college and the financial aid students can get to cover those costs.

We examined the consistency and accuracy of institutions' living cost allowances in a working paper issued in October 2014. The results suggest that as many as one in three colleges and universities are substantially understating the costs of living in college. We described the implications of these errors in Time.

Indeed, many students are struggling to pay for food and housing. We first began uncovering their struggles during data collection for the Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study in 2008, and continued interviewing students about these challenges over the next six years. In 2014 we had the opportunity to travel the country and learn about how practitioners at community colleges worked to help food and housing insecure students.  We documented findings from that study in a working paper, and in an implementation evaluation of Single Stop, a nonprofit program operating on many college campuses.

Building on those efforts, in 2015 we joined forces with the Healthy Minds Study at the University of Michigan, the Association of Community College Trustees, and Single Stop to field a survey of more than 4,000 students at 10 community colleges across the nation. That survey revealed that more than one in two students were navigating food and/or housing insecurity.

Awareness is a critical step in bringing better services and supports to these students. Our team spoke at the national convention of the United States Student Association. We published an article in The Conversation calling for linking federal nutrition policy with higher education practices. Our HOPE Affiliate Clare Cady published an article on food insecurity among college students in the Journal of College and Character. In August, we submitted public testimony to the National Commission on Hunger detailing potential policy solutions for food and housing insecurity in college and a student’s personal experience with these issues. In partnership with the American Council on Education, we made recommendations to the Technical Review Panel of NCES’ National Postsecondary Student Aid Study to add the measurement of food insecurity to the next administration of its national survey.

We have also engaged with practitioners and policymakers across the country to learn about potential strategies for addressing food and housing insecurity among college students. In June 2014, we hosted a workshop for Wisconsin researchers, policymakers, and practitioners at Madison College, a local public two-year college. A report from that workshop is here.  In spring 2015, we presented a workshop on addressing these critical student needs at the annual NASPA conference in New Orleans. More recently, we spoke at the Wisconsin Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers Annual Conference about meeting the needs of the homeless student population, and HOPE Affiliate Anthony Jack presented “I, Too, Am Hungry: An Examination of Structural Exclusion at an Elite University,” at the HOPE Lab’s Fall Speaker Series.

In April 2016, over 150 practitioners, policymakers, and researchers met at Milwaukee Area Technical College for #RealCollege, a first-of-its-kind convening to learn how to effectively address undergraduate food and housing insecurity and increase college completion for low-income students.

Our commitment to further research and action in this area continues.  We are studying the efficacy of emergency aid programs, which attempt to respond to students’ immediate needs.  We are also developing partnerships to evaluate the impact of providing subsidized housing to students.  Finally, since the role of students and their voices is so important to this work, we are launching an action-research project with homeless undergraduates.

Student Internship

Beginning in Summer 2014, people from across Wisconsin have been interning with the HOPE Lab in a project aimed at discovering and documenting how their communities view college opportunities in the state. Participants include undergraduates and faculty members at UW-Fond du Lac, UW-Marathon County, Nicolet Technical College, Mid State Technical College, and UW-Madison.

Financial Aid Administrator Study

Every year financial aid administrators do the hard work of distributing billions of dollars of support to students. Yet there has been little study of their professional development, their daily work, or the constraints under which they labor. Lab researchers are conducting interviews with financial aid officers and administrators in an effort to understand their role in making sense of, interpreting, and enacting federal, state, and institutional rules and regulations. (began in 2010)

Oneida Scholarship Study

The Oneida Nation offers a great deal of scholarship support to its tribal members, yet has little information on the return on that investment. This project explores the postsecondary student success among scholarship recipients of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. The study is investigating how Oneida scholarship recipients fare at different colleges and universities and is identifying promising practices institutions employ to promote Oneida student completion. (began in 2013)

Poverty in Higher Education: Hardships, Impacts on Achievement and Policy Discourse

Despite increases in college access, college completion rates have been stagnant over the past several decades and attainment gaps by race/ethnicity and income are large and persistent. Recent reports suggest that material hardships such as hunger and homelessness may be inhibiting student achievement. Katharine Broton’s dissertation research examines how the incidence of material hardship among college students has changed over the past twenty years. She then investigates how experiences of material hardship impact college access, achievement, and degree completion. Finally, Broton analyzes how the language employed in policy proposals targeting students from low-income backgrounds shapes our understanding of the social problem and potential policy interventions.