Education Northwest Receives Federal Grant for Research on Supporting Low-income STEM Students’ Basic Needs

May 2024

“Understanding and Supporting the Whole Student” to be Based in Washington State

[Portland, OR] – The National Science Foundation has awarded Education Northwest and its partners a $3 million grant to produce new and actionable information about how publicly funded housing, health, and human services can better support low-income students’ access to and success in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) postsecondary pathways.

STEM students are humans first, so meeting their needs requires a holistic approach. This project, which will benefit from uncommonly comprehensive state data, will inform colleges and policymakers about cost-effective ways to do that.
—Sara Goldrick-Rab, Senior Fellow and Co-PI

The Understanding and Supporting the Whole Student five-year project will link education and workforce data from the Washington state Education Research and Data Center (ERDC) with housing, health, and human services data from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to study key questions related to how publicly funded programs help students navigate and complete postsecondary STEM pathways.

The research will examine how programs that are designed to address low-income high school students’ basic needs support their access to and success in STEM pathways in college; the extent to which low-income STEM students use housing, health, and human services programs during college; and how these programs relate to their outcomes. This aligns with the Washington Student Achievement Council’s statewide strategic action plan to increase educational attainment and equity, which identifies basic needs insecurity as a significant barrier to postsecondary access and success for many students.

The project will also partner with Washington community and technical colleges on a study to understand how providing low-income STEM students with more information on available social and health services affects their use of those services and retention in STEM programs. Community and technical colleges enroll higher numbers of first-generation and low-income students. Informing students about available services can help them overcome work, family, and financial pressures, succeed in college, and ultimately secure well-paying STEM careers.

Finally, the project will model how other states and institutions can think about new ways to improve STEM access and success for low-income students. The project will involve:

  • Education Northwest researchers Michelle Hodara (PI), Sara Goldrick-Rab (Co-PI), Christopher Mazzeo (Co-PI), Ashlie Denton (Co-PI), Emi Fujita-Conrads, Sam Riggs, and others
  • Christine Baker-Smith (Co-PI), Director of Research for the National League of Cities
  • Washington state agencies—the ERDC, the DSHS, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and the Washington Student Achievement Council
  • Washington colleges including Everett Community College, Skagit Valley College, and Spokane Community College
  • An advisory team of experts in STEM and basic needs support, including Erin Carll (University of Washington), David R. Brown (Nine Twenty-Four Strategies), Ruthe Farmer (Last Mile Education Fund), and Vistasp Karbhari (University of Texas-Arlington)
  • DVP-PRAXIS LTD, our external evaluator, with deep experience assessing federal- and philanthropic- funded programs to improve students’ experiences and outcomes in postsecondary education.

The project is part of NSF’s Scholarships in STEM Network and will be the second S-STEM Research Hub at Education Northwest—joining the INTuitN STEM Hub, which is led collaboratively by Education Northwest managing researcher Leanne Davis and researchers at Temple University.

For more information or to schedule an interview with members of the project team, contact Ilona Wall, Communications Director.