The COVID-19 pandemic shed a spotlight on the challenges many college students faced in meeting their basic needs. But, the pandemic did not create these challenges – our founder, Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, published a book on the topic in 2016 – and now, as federal pandemic aid fades into the distance, these challenges remain salient for millions of college students each year. Last month, a report from the National College Attainment Network found that less than a quarter of all public four-year colleges are affordable (meaning, a student can pay for school and living expenses with financial aid plus a summer job and a reasonable amount of work during the school year), and just 40% of public community colleges met the mark.


Over the last two years, we have had a unique opportunity to test a variety of approaches to meeting this affordability gap and helping students remain in school while meeting their needs for food, shelter, child care assistance, and other costs of being human. One promising approach, which is core to our work, is emergency aid. A recent analysis of federal emergency funding found that most students used the funds for food, books, and housing. This adds to the growing evidence base that emergency aid helps not only to reduce students’ anxiety about meeting their basic needs, but can increase persistence and graduation rates.

I heard about this first hand recently from Karli, a student at Stony Brook University who received one of their first FAST Fund grants last fall. She told me that one of her professors had noticed her struggling and approached her with an offer of support in the form of an emergency grant from the faculty-led FAST Fund. That small grant was enough to keep her on track, and she will be graduating in December!

Next year, we will be expanding this work, not only continuing to provide emergency aid to students, but engaging these students and their professors in working towards system-level changes to help all students. Earlier this fall, we announced a new partnership with three higher ed union locals in the Great Lakes region. In this work, we will create a #RealCollege student fellowship that partners with FAST Fund leaders on these campuses to identify key barriers to affordability, build an agenda for change, and organize advocacy efforts to support those local changes that will improve the lives of students on campus.

We are thrilled to be taking this next step to expand our work and empower students to identify the changes they need. We believe in them, and we know you do, too. I can’t thank you enough for your support of this work.