Theses Doctoral

Understanding the Role of Higher Education in Addressing Students’ Basic Needs

Klempin, Serena Constance

In recent years, attention to the number of students struggling to meet basic needs such as food and housing has grown, and services such as food pantries, emergency grants, and assistance accessing public benefits have become increasingly common on college campuses. However, much is still unknown about why colleges and universities are adopting basic needs services, how colleges and universities are incorporating basic needs services into organizational functioning, and what challenges may make it difficult for colleges and universities to provide basic needs services. The current coverage of basic needs in higher education largely focuses on documenting the prevalence of food and housing insecurity among students and advocating for basic needs services as a strategy to promote student success.

To date, little research has been done to explore what it means for higher education to provide basic needs services from an institutional perspective. To better understand what it means for colleges as institutions to provide basic needs services, the dissertation uses qualitative interviews with individuals from community colleges, public four-year colleges, private four-year colleges, and highly selective private four-year universities to examine the influence of external environmental pressures as well as internal organizational dynamics on the provision of basic needs services.

I find that while external pressures and internal dynamics are conveying the message that colleges should provide basic needs services, they offer little guidance over how to do so. Basic needs services tend to operate on the periphery of organizational functioning, with limited institutional support, and faculty and staff are struggling to define the extent of higher education’s responsibility. The study contributes not only to organizational theory research in higher education, but also to policy research regarding strategies for strengthening the social safety net.

It concludes by highlighting remaining unanswered questions about the role of higher education in addressing students’ basic needs and offering recommendations for new research into strategies for enhancing the role of cross-sector partnerships in supporting students’ basic needs and maximizing the potential of college-based basic needs services.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociology and Education
Thesis Advisors
Pallas, Aaron
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 7, 2022