Dear Friend:

We are in an extraordinarily challenging time for higher education. In 2020, the pandemic helped shed light on the issues we have long known are true: the increase in the price of college for students and the accompanying rise in basic needs insecurity for today’s students is a serious threat to the long-term success of our higher education system. And after a brief period of increased investment and attention at every level to the need for change, the system is now facing unprecedented headwinds.

Increasing costs without commensurate funding support. Attacks on efforts at increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Questions about the motivations of faculty and students. Political takeovers of institutional governance. Any one of these creates a challenge for higher ed leaders. Together, they take a remarkable toll on the impact and the environment of our higher education systems today.

Our students feel it. Our faculty partners feel it. At a recent convening we held with our network leaders in the Great Lakes region, one person noted, “Lately, every year in higher ed is more difficult than the year before.” Yet, that same leader pointed to the antidote she has experienced: working in solidarity with other faculty, staff, and students on her campus and across the Believe in Students network to focus on building institutions that better serve students.

Celebrating 2023

2023 was a year of change and growth for Believe in Students and our network partners. Our focus for the year was on advancing the concept of “Faculty and Students Together,” taking all we learn in giving out emergency aid and equipping faculty and students to leverage that information for greater change.

Last year brought the launch of the Changemakers Fellowship. Over the course of the year we engaged 20 students at Milwaukee and Chicago-area colleges – community colleges and regional public universities that don’t typically offer experiences like this.

In May, we brought those students, and the FAST Fund leaders who support them, together to talk about what they were learning, and how we might leverage their collective power to address issues most critical to them. We were grateful to be joined by our partners from the American Federation of Teachers, where president Randi Weingarten expressed her confidence and support for the work we are doing in the Great Lakes.

We also released a series of reports documenting the impact of our emergency aid distribution over the last three years, including one that showed that more than 90% of students who received emergency grants were able to persist to the next semester of school. Importantly, also we produced the first piece documenting the impact of our longest-standing program, the FAST Fund. That work resulted in a high-profile feature in The Chronicle of Higher Education (author Eric Hoover later called it “the most important story I wrote this year”!).

And if you clicked on the links above, you were taken to our redesigned website, where we have worked to increase navigability and do a better job of telling the stories of the students we’re here to serve, and the ways we are working to support them.

As we embark on this incredibly important work, I’m extremely proud of the Believe in Students team and the work we are doing.” 

Ready for 2024

This year, we are continuing to advance our work with faculty and students to create change on their campuses, while we advance two new student-centered innovations with transformative potential.

We are continuing to build on the work of our coalition in the Great Lakes region by bringing new campus teams into the mix, training and supporting a new group of fellows, and solidifying our focus on the most salient issues by releasing an advocacy agenda for the coalition (coming soon!). Before they depart, this year’s fellows will be taking action to address the food and housing challenges they see on their campuses – we can’t wait to tell you about it!

Those who work in higher ed know that efforts to engage faculty in critical conversations about student success are rare, and the divide between faculty and staff is consistent across most campuses in this country. So our work to engage faculty in better understanding why students face basic needs challenges today, and how they can use their roles to improve student support is uniquely powerful. With support from the Michelson 20MM Foundation, we have taken an exciting new step, launching the #RealCollege Curriculum—a learner-centered, online masterclass with the potential to transform higher education by helping faculty (and staff) operationalize practices in ways that center students as humans first. We’re just in the opening stages of developing and deploying this one-of-a-kind resource—if you’re interested in supporting continued content development or deploying it on your campus, let me know! You’ll hear much more about this in the coming months.

Finally, in our home base of Philadelphia, we are eagerly anticipating the launch of a long-time-coming project, Gather Food Hall. If you’ve been with us for a while, you’ve heard us talk about a pilot effort we built during the pandemic, to form a unique partnership with a world class restauranteur and one of Philly’s most inventive and authentic creative agencies to design a uniquely powerful dining experience, where up-and-coming Black and brown food entrepreneurs serve some of the city’s best food in an inviting space where college students who need a meal can get one for free in a fast, stigma-free way (our first priority for meeting student needs!). Sound intriguing? Watch for more, coming soon!


As we embark on this incredibly important work, I’m extremely proud of the Believe in Students team and the work we are doing. Our board continues to grow, adding strong leadership and reflecting the communities we serve. Our staff are incredibly dedicated and passionate, as they know first-hand the challenges our students are facing. Our network of FAST Fund leaders are committed to creating institutions that better serve today’s college students. And our student fellows are powerhouses, bringing powerful and authentic voices grounded in their own broad range of experiences that reflect the #RealCollege experience.

I can’t wait to share all that comes for this work in 2024. Thank you for making it possible, and for believing in students with us.

Stay tuned,