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V6I3: Addressing Basic Needs, Well-Being Proves Key to Removing Barriers to Student Success at Big Bend Community College

Dr. Bryce Humpherys, Vice President for Learning & Student Success, Big Bend Community College 

BBCC Public Affairs Office 

WES Team (from left): Karla Alva, Program Assistant; Cynthia Razo, Program Assistant; Giselle Gudino, Program Coordinator; Yolanda Ibarra, Director; Veronica Pelayo, Program Assistant; Tara White, Program Coordinator; and Olha Spornyk, Program Assistant. (Image Credit: Big Bend Community College)

At Big Bend Community College, Workforce Education Services (WES) provides grants to historically underserved, low-income, and first-generation college students pursuing a workforce education credential through financial assistance, support services, and case management. WES grants help students pay for tuition, books, and program-specific tools, as well as provide access to basic needs such as food, housing, and transportation.  

Just like nearly all other institutions of higher education, in 2020 due to COVID, BBCC moved from in-person to online delivery of instruction and services. WES was one of the departments that suffered from the change. The student populations WES serves are historically underserved students of color (56%), low-income (96%), and first-generation (79%) students as well as parents. *Percentages of the 367 students served during the 2022-23 academic year. 

The impact of the pandemic on students served by WES was particularly hard and many students stopped attending college. WES enrollment was down, the department was not meeting its enrollment goals, and engagement with students was extremely limited. Many students served by WES are tactile learners and enjoy hands-on learning. It was difficult for them to adapt to a new environment of fully online classes or small in-person classes with schedules different from what they had experienced previously.  

WES services moved from in-person to online and the department had to figure out how to change the delivery of services provided and still ensure students continued to have access to WES services. The first step was to convert all eligibility and participation forms to an online format and have them available in different languages. A key form the department digitized was the WES Monthly Check-in Form.  This form facilitates monthly connections between students and department staff and is a way that students can report how they are doing in classes and if they have any needs. 

After making the form available online, WES staff noticed increased student requests for multiple needs including housing assistance, food access, transportation, financial budgeting, utility assistance, and mental health resources. In addition to the check-in form, the department also regularly monitors other indicators of student success including program-unduplicated headcount, student grades, student academic plans, student enrollment status and student financial need.  All these data sources pointed to a need for the department to adjust its services. 

BBCC Director of Workforce Education Services Yolanda Ibarra said their day-to-day work shifted to serving students in a more holistic way. 

“We understood that the success of a student relies on their well-being, securing basic needs, and having a support system,” she said. 

With that new lens, WES got to work expanding its capacity to meet students’ needs by adding additional staff (from three to eight in the last three years), offering services in multiple languages (English, Spanish, and Ukrainian) and increasing funding sources. Since 2020 WES has doubled the amount of grants and contracts (from five funding options to 10 in the last two years) which has led to not only more funding overall for students, but more things WES can help students pay for. 

WES currently oversees nearly $1.8 million in grants and contracts. 

The department is currently able to provide services to the following Big Bend student populations: 

  • Low-income 
  • Dislocated Workers 
  • Displace Homemakers 
  • Veterans 
  • TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) participants 
  • SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients 
  • Disaster Impacted Students 
  • Early Childhood Education Students 
  • Homelessness Students 
  • Students suffering from food insecurity 
  • First Generation Students 
  • Refugee Students  

WES funding allows the department to pay full tuition and fees to all qualifying students.  By doing this, students can use their financial aid to cover other needs related to persisting in school, such as books, housing and transportation.  

WES understands that students often need financial resources to pay for basic needs. Department staff recognized that if students only receive tuition assistance, but their basic needs are not met, it would be unrealistic to expect them to stay in school. 

Many students struggle to persist and complete their college education. In talking with students, staff identified basic needs, secured additional funding to provide financial support and now is able to assist students to address each of the following: 

  • Housing 
  • Food Access 
  • Transportation 
  • Medical 
  • Utilities 
  • Access to Internet 
  • Childcare 

Creating a relationship with students is imperative. The WES service model is based on case management where each student enrolled in the WES program has an assigned WES Case Manager who builds individual relationships with students and helps them with the following services:  

  • WES Application for Services 
  • FAFSA/WASFA Applications 
  • College Navigation 
  • Connection to Community Resources 
  • SNAP Application  
  • Application for public benefits 
  • Childcare Referrals 
  • Mental Health referrals 
  • Homelessness  
  • Application for food through the Viking Food Pantry 
  • Financial Assistance to pay for housing, on-campus and off-campus; transportation including gas, repairs and insurance; medical; utilities; access to internet and computers and childcare 

WES Case Managers track students’ academic enrollment, progress and completion. They contact each student at least once a month to ensure they are participating in classes and their basic needs are met. 

The department also manages and operates the Viking Food Pantry that provides students access to food.  Staff also provide academic advising for workforce programs.   

All the structural and funding changes WES made in the last few years not only allowed the department to meet enrollment goals for its grants, but also increase student retention, persistence and completion.  

WES services are having a positive impact on student success.  In 2022-23, 76 percent of historically marginalized (African American/Black, Hispanic, Native American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander) WES students were retained to the following year or completed a credential at Big Bend. When you look at historically marginalized Workforce students not served by WES, that percentage is 34 percent.  

During the same time period, WES students also had a higher average GPA compared to non-WES students—2.86 and 2.73, respectively. 

Ibarra said she is proud of the work her team has done to help increase student outcomes. 

“WES has been working very hard to change how we approach students’ success, and we have seen the positive effect reflected in the increase in our student’s retention and completion,” said Ibarra. 

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