Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success

June 16, 2020

Postsecondary Success Notes | An urgent need for student support


I write to you from a place of sorrow and anger over the festering racial inequities that have brought us to this moment as a nation, as well as determination to continue and accelerate our efforts to address them when it comes to higher education.

For many of you and the students you serve and support, an “anything but normal” academic year has drawn to a close. And a big question looms: “What now?”

For many of today’s students and their families – especially low-income and first-generation students and students of color – this is an urgent question. Not a question about summer jobs or gap years, but a question about basic needs and whether their educational dreams are in jeopardy.

Let’s be clear. These questions existed before COVID-19 and disparities in basic needs and support for students of color and low-income students were present well before the protests happening now. As the Hope Center has documented over the past five years, at least a third of students reported some form of food or housing insecurity, and at least one in ten reported homelessness. Without action, the pandemic and its economic effects will only make these problems worse, pushing millions of today’s students to the ragged margins of educational opportunity.

That is why one of the four pillars of our COVID-19 response is holistic student support. Broadly, this is the intentional integration of academic and personal support systems that address the whole student. One of the most urgent elements of this is emergency aid for unplanned expenses that can derail a student’s journey. Experience in the field offers insight on how to design and deploy emergency aid programs, including streamlining application processes, delivery to students, and setting clear and equitable decision criteria. Keep reading for more information about our unfolding work in this area.

Preserving and expanding educational opportunity will take more than emergency aid and short-term measures; we understand that. In the coming weeks, I will be sharing more about our COVID-19 response, which is designed to address both the immediate and longer term change we need – and our students deserve. We are committed to swift and evidence-backed action, working with and listening to partners and those on the front lines of serving today’s students.


Patrick Methvin