A national model for improving basic needs security in higher education

Basic needs insecurity, or the lack of the minimum necessary supports for well-being, has pervaded universities nationwide for decades, and the University of California is no exception. Over the last 18 years, the total cost of attendance at institutions has more than doubled, making it more difficult for the university's most historically underserved students to thrive in college.


Although for many years, addressing students' ability to provide for their basic needs was seen as something outside of universities' field of responsibility, today there is growing recognition that addressing food and housing insecurity is fundamental to equitable and successful academic completion.

To better meet the basic needs of all UC students, the university launched a comprehensive initiative to provide a safety net for students without resources to fall back on. Its efforts — which include a broad definition of basic needs and extensive wraparound services to help students stay financially stable — have been brought into prominence as a national model.

While these efforts have been instrumental in supporting an estimated 40,000 UC students in need during the 2019–20 academic year, the university is still only beginning to fully understand the complex and intersecting factors that influence basic needs insecurity.

How do we define student basic needs?

The university defines basic needs as the minimum resources necessary to holistically support all students in their daily lives.

/'bāsik /nēdz/ · noun

An ecosystem that supports financial stability by ensuring equitable access to nutritious and sufficient food; safe, secure and adequate housing (to sleep, study, cook and shower); healthcare to promote sustained mental and physical well-being; affordable transportation; resources for personal hygiene care; and emergency needs for students with dependents.

The Basic Needs Ecosystem 

  • Financial stability
  • Health and sufficient food
  • Safe, secure and adequate housing (to sleep, study, cook and shower)
  • Access to healthcare to promote physical and mental well-being
  • Access to affordable transportation
  • Emergency needs for dependents of parenting students

The Special Committee on Basic Needs

As part of its work in assessing the impact of basic needs insecurity on students' well-being and academic performance, the Regents formed a Special Committee on Basic Needs to:

  • Further the discussion on basic needs
  • Identify the root causes of basic needs insecurity
  • Develop a long-term strategy to eliminate all basic needs insecurity at the university

Their findings and recommendations, which include actionable solutions to addressing and reducing basic needs insecurity at UC, are detailed in the Regents' Special Committee on Basic Needs report.

Major findings from this effort included the following points:

  • Fulfilling basic needs remains a challenge for almost half of the university student body and for over half of students from underrepresented groups.
  • Basic needs insecurity impedes educational access and success.
  • Financial aid is not sufficient for certain students to meet their basic needs, because the university's financial aid policy assumptions do not hold for all students.
  • Current basic needs services have proven effective for supporting many students' basic needs, but they are not scalable to address every student in need.
  • The academic, economic and health-related impacts of the coronavirus pandemic reinforce the need for UC to strengthen and sustain basic needs interventions and services.
During the first month into the coronavirus, I was stuck, really stuck in a situation that was almost impossible to bear. … The Basic Needs Program really came through for me at a time when they were needed the most.
Ronald Rivers, UC Riverside

The University of California's Next Phase of Improving Basic Needs

The Regents' Special Committee on Basic Needs report outlines recommendations and systemwide challenge goals to achieve by 2025.

Download the November 2020 report