Cover: Finding Help Outside the Classroom

Finding Help Outside the Classroom

Approaches for Supporting College Students' Basic Needs

Published May 23, 2023

by Robert Bozick, Christine Mulhern

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This Perspective builds on a related RAND Corporation report that describes the implementation of Findhelp at four North Carolina community colleges in 2021 and 2022. Findhelp is an online tool to connect students to resources in their communities to help meet their basic nonacademic needs. The North Carolina Community College System, with support from the John M. Belk Endowment, contracted with RAND to track the implementation and student usage of Findhelp, estimate its impacts on student success, and understand the cost-effectiveness of using the program to increase student retention. This Perspective summarizes the main findings from the longer report and then contextualizes the findings in the broader literature.

While Findhelp was perceived by college staff as a low-cost and easy-to-implement tool, few students used the tool during the study period. Despite low usage rates, the study findings suggest that students who accessed Findhelp had better academic outcomes than similar students who did not access Findhelp. The broader literature suggests at least three strategies to build on lessons learned to improve support for college students' basic needs. This Perspective concludes with a discussion of these strategies to improve the uptake and effectiveness of initiatives aiming to support students' basic needs in colleges across the United States.

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This study was sponsored by the John M. Belk Endowment and conducted by the RAND Lowy Family Middle-Class Pathways Center within RAND Education and Labor.

This commentary is part of the RAND expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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