Meeting Basic Needs

More and more colleges are recognizing the impact of unmet basic needs on student retention, success, and mental health and wellness.

What Are Basic Needs? 

Basic needs are things people need to survive and be mentally and physically healthy. Some examples are secure housing or shelter, nutritious food, clean water, utilities, transportation, and clothing. Basic needs can also include a sense of safety, belonging, and love. When researchers discuss “basic needs,” they often focus on food insecurity and homelessness or housing insecurity.

Key Terms

Food insecurity: going hungry, not having enough money to buy food, having to skip or limit meals due to money, etc.

Housing insecurity: not having enough money to pay rent or utilities, moving in with other people due to financial problems, doubling up, moving multiple times a year, etc.

Homelessness: not having a home, being evicted or thrown out, sleeping in cars or abandoned buildings, staying in a shelter, not knowing where you will sleep at night, etc.

What Happens When Students Can’t Meet Their Basic Needs?

Financial stress is a barrier to student achievement and is associated with a lower GPA. When students can’t meet their basic needs, they may cope by not buying textbooks or other essentials, dropping classes, working more hours at low-quality jobs, skipping semesters, and even dropping out.

Basic needs insecurity can also severely impact health and wellness:

  • Depression, severe anxiety, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation
  • Poor health, delayed visits to the doctor, inability to pay for medical care
  • Physical health problems such as obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular risk factors