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The New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC) has partnered with the nonprofit Benefits Data Trust to support the Community to Opportunity initiative, funded by the Tepper Foundation, to help ensure adequate food and other basic needs of students are met. 

Benefits Data Trust (BDT), a national nonprofit working to modernize access to government assistance, has been selected by NJCCC to train college administrators and staff in how to use the data schools already hold to inform students who may be eligible for untapped public benefits that can help them stay in college and graduate. Federal programs can help students pay for food and healthcare, alleviating some of the financial pressure of being a student.  

“New Jersey’s community colleges play an essential role in expanding educational and economic opportunity across our state. However, too many students are in need of assistance in meeting their basic needs, making it harder for them to focus on their studies and complete their degrees and credentials,” said NJCCC President Aaron R. Fichtner, Ph.D.  

“With the support of The Tepper Foundation, Community to Opportunity is serving as a statewide learning community, allowing our participating community colleges to pilot innovative ideas and strengthen partnerships with state and local government, local and statewide nonprofits, community- and faith-based organizations, and others to create long-term, sustainable solutions to meet the basic needs challenges community college students face,” Fichtner said. 

Randi Tepper, CEO of The Tepper Foundation, said the goal is to provide the support students need so that they can focus on school, not outside stressors. 

“Community colleges across New Jersey understand the many barriers students face outside of the classroom and are committed to finding innovative ways to eliminate them,” Tepper said. “We are excited to be partnering with New Jersey Council of County Colleges and Benefits Data Trust to make sure more students’ basic needs are met.” 

Camden County College, Essex County College, Hudson County Community College, Ocean County College, Rowan College at Burlington County, and Sussex County Community College are serving as leader colleges in the Community to Opportunity initiative to develop strategies to scale their efforts to support students’ basic needs security. 

“Camden County College recognizes the importance of ensuring that we remove all barriers to student success,” said Lovell Pugh-Bassett, president of Camden County College. “Support from the Tepper Foundation will allow us to better serve our diverse student population and help them address the complex range of challenges standing between them and their educational goals.” 

Nearly 1 in 4 undergraduate students face food insecurity, a rate higher than that of people not in school, the NJCCC said in a statement on Tuesday evening. Federal benefit programs can help students cover these expenses, yet they remain underutilized.  

Nationally, nearly 2 million students who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) do not participate, leaving an estimated $3 billion in benefits unused. College students may also be eligible for programs such as Medicaid, the Child Tax Credit, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). 

“Through our work with colleges and from research we’ve conducted with community college partners, we know that lack of awareness about these programs and uncertainty about whether college students are eligible are two major reasons why students don’t apply to SNAP,” said Stephanie Baker, senior manager of higher education at Benefits Data Trust. “We’re here to help colleges find eligible students and tell them: ‘You can qualify for these programs that help you support yourself and your family while you pursue your educational goals.’” 

BDT will guide the participating community colleges as they launch outreach about benefit programs to students this year and support the colleges to refine their process and future outreach plans. BDT will participate in NJCCC’s Holistic Student Supports Convening on Thursday, June 13, part of the three-day New Jersey Community College Opportunity Summit in Atlantic City, to share information with attendees from all 18 community colleges in the state. 

BDT will also provide a final report on learnings and recommendations for expanding benefits outreach work across all the state’s community colleges as part of ongoing statewide efforts to support students’ basic needs and degree completion. 

Learn more in BDT’s toolkit designed to help higher education institutions use data to inform outreach to students who are likely eligible for benefit programs. 

For more information about the New Jersey Community College Opportunity Summit, go here.