SSERC Researchers Collaborate with Slug Support Staff to Better Understand Basic Needs Among UCSC Students

SSERC research findings indicate students benefit from the services provided by the Slug Support program.

April 01, 2015

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The combination of rising tuition and living costs, insufficient financial aid packages, and increased enrollment of more diverse and less wealthy undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz has led to many students struggling with basic needs.

In order to better understand this issue, Brandon Balzer Carr (Doctoral Candidate in Social Psychology and SSERC Graduate Student Researcher) and Rebecca London (Assistant Professor of Sociology and SSERC Faculty Affiliate and Founding Faculty Director) partnered with the staff at Slug Support (a program that provides food, housing, financial, and crisis triage support) to analyze utilization patterns, demographics, grade point changes, and retention rates of the students served.

Findings indicate that students have needs and receive supports in four areas: food insecurity, mental health, severe and recurring hardships, and one-time supports. The program helps to stabilize students’ enrollment and grades over time, but one group stands out as benefitting the most. Students facing food insecurity who enrolled in CalFresh (California's food stamps program (SNAP)) or received other food support subsequently earned higher grades and experienced larger than university average rates of retention. Stabilizing food insecurity through CalFresh participation is an important way to improve student success for low-income students.

Balzer Carr and London identify the following recommendations for UCSC based on their research:

  • California has amended its CalFresh regulations to waive the work requirements for certain low-income students. Potentially eligible students should be encouraged to apply for CalFresh in order to destigmatize program participation and increase undergraduate retention rates.   
  •   The CalFresh enrollment process should be linked to other new student activities to ensure these critical resources are provided. 
  • The campus community needs to find larger solutions to address housing, as Slug Support has limited means to solve this problem on their own.     

The importance of this work is reflected in the attention it has been garnering both on campus, regionally, and nationally. Balzer Carr and London presented their work in Washington DC at the annual conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, in San Francisco at the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), and on-campus for an audience of administrators, staff, faculty, and students. Additionally, this work was highlighted on campus in the Tuesday/Newsday, and Balzer Carr and London authored a post for the PPIC.