Strategic 211 Partnership Comprehensively Supported Student Basic Needs In First Year
By Dr. Paul Shepherd, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management
July 13, 2023
In March of 2017, Minnesota State embarked upon a journey to enhance our collective capacity to support student basic needs and mental health. This journey has been inspired and informed by the work done by dedicated and caring faculty, staff, and students at Minnesota State colleges and universities who each and every day work to support students as they achieve their educational goals. In 2018 and 2019, 28 Minnesota State colleges and universities participated in the nation’s largest study of the prevalence of basic needs insecurity among college students. Approximately 9,800 students participated in this study and data revealed 37% of students experienced food insecurity within the previous 30 days, 48% experienced housing insecurity within the previous year, and 18% experienced homelessness within the previous year. Data also revealed the prevalence of basic needs insecurity was disproportionately experienced by Black, Indigenous, and other students of color, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and first generation college students. These data align with national data regarding the prevalence of basic needs insecurity among college students and illuminate the significant threat basic needs insecurity and mental health concerns represent to equity, inclusion, and student success. Achieving the Minnesota State Equity 2030 goal requires a comprehensive approach to addressing basic needs insecurity and mental health concerns in order to provide all students meaningful access to higher education and the support necessary to achieve success.
Cultivating strategic partnerships has been a cornerstone of our system approach to this work. The Minnesota State basic needs committee, a group composed of a majority of students appointed by our statewide student associations, engaged in thoughtful and data-informed discussions about innovative strategies to enhance our basic needs and mental health support capacity. This conversation resulted in a bold idea to explore the creation of a centralized basic needs resource hub that students could contact 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to access a broad range of basic needs resources. This discussion led to an exploratory conversation with colleagues at Greater Twin Cities United Way about a potential partnership with the United Way 211 program. The United Way 211 resource helpline is a statewide resource that connects individuals in Minnesota to community social support resources. Our vision was to create a partnership in which Minnesota State students could contact United Way 211 to receive information about basic needs and mental health resources in their community and resources available at their college or university. This one stop shop for basic needs and mental health resources held the promise of increasing awareness and access to critical resources. Our partners at Greater Twin Cities United Way 211 eagerly joined us in bringing this vision to life.
The Minnesota State basic needs and mental health resource hub powered by United Way 211 officially launched on the first day of classes in the fall of 2022. Students can now contact 211 by text or phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to receive free and confidential basic needs and mental health resources. Since the launch of the 211 partnership, over 890 students have contacted 211 to receive support. Students providing feedback about their experience contacting 211 shared overwhelmingly positive reviews indicating they were treated with respect and were satisfied with the support they received. Most students reaching out indicated this was the first time they had contacted 211 and planned to follow up with the resources provided to them to address their needs.
The establishment of this partnership to create a centralized basic needs and mental health resource hub is an innovative and unique strategy to comprehensively support basic needs and mental health. Our United Way partners have shared this is the single largest integration with higher education ever attempted within the international United Way 211 network. This partnership is a “first of its kind” collaboration and represents a creative way higher education can partner with community-based organizations to better meet student needs. Successfully supporting students as they navigate barriers to success requires innovative approaches that evolve campus-based student support resources to include ways to leverage community-based organizations that possess more specialized expertise. The partnership with United Way 211 creates an interconnected web of support that bridges campus and community-based resources. This work has received national attention and is being discussed as a national model for how higher education and community organizations can work together to support students as they work toward their educational goals. One of the largest philanthropic foundations supporting basic needs and mental health work in higher education has recognized Minnesota State for this innovative approach by providing funding to sustain the partnership and study the impact of this work.The Minnesota Legislature provided funding to make this possible and the recent historic investments in higher education will enable the continuation of this resource into the future.
In the first year of the centralized basic needs and mental health resource hub, we have just scratched the surface of the impact a powerful resource like this can have to achieve our Equity 2030 goal. While just over 890 students reaching out in the first year is a great starting point, we know that with additional investments in awareness-raising activities and more deeply socializing the resource hub with students, we can reach even more students and provide them with the support they deserve. One student who contacted the resource hub shared, “the woman I spoke with was such a blessing. I raised four kids on my own and never have gotten any service. I reached out because I’m in transition and really struggled until I started my new job. It was very hard to reach out to ask for help, but the lady made me feel valuable.” This powerful testimony reveals the resilience of our students, and the impact accessible and timely resources can have in helping our students to feel supported and valued as members of our community. The centralized basic needs and mental health resource hub powered by the Minnesota State partnership with United Way 211 is a tangible and creative way to tell our students “You’ve Got This! We’ve Got You!”.