On May 5, the University of Houston Downtown held a ceremony to cut the ribbon for its Basic Needs Center.
The center, which will be located on the second level of UHD One Main Building and will be funded by a grant of nearly $944,000 from the U.S. Department of Education, will help students with food, housing issues, medical problems, transportation, or technology-related insecurities.
Lynette Cook Francis, UHD's Interim Vice President for Student Success and Student Life, told Houston Business Journal that UHD conducted a survey to determine the basic needs of its students.
More than half of the students surveyed were concerned that they might run out of food within the last 30 days. 41% said that the food they purchased didn't stay fresh, 27% that they cut back on the amount of food, and 33% that they missed a class because of transportation problems beyond their control.
Loren Blanchard, UHD president, said at an event on May 5, that 70% of the students and families served by the university live below poverty level.
UHD launched its Food for Change Market in November 2022 to provide students with the online Basic Needs Program. With the physical center in place, UHD will be able to offer direct assistance to students, such as emergency funds to cover housing, mental health, transportation, and clothing.
Blanchard wants to see students have the option to receive emergency grants to ensure that a bump in their road doesn't derail their progress towards completing a degree at UHD.
The existing market will provide food security, and UHD's catering service can also offer emergency hot meals. Students at UHD must fill out a brief online application in order to access the center. Cook-Francis stated that UHD made it as easy and accessible as they could.
The program's goal is to improve graduation and retention rates. This aligns with Blanchard’s strategic plan.
Blanchard stated in an interview with HBJ that the strategic plan is centered around student success. The current six-year college graduation rate is around 30%. However, it is hoped to increase this to 60% by the year 2028.
Blanchard stated that 70% of UHD students are first generation students. A large number of graduate and transfer students are also students of the first generation. He wants to see the university help students achieve sustained economic mobility, which not only has a generational impact but also allows them to be leaders in their industry and community after graduation.
Blanchard stated that he was passionate about student success. It's something I strongly believe in. Every one of our children needs at least one champion, but we hope they will have many more. This champion mindset or behavior is not meant to coddle, but rather to ensure that they do not go astray.
UHD also asked the Texas Legislature to provide a total amount of $67,000,000 for construction and transformative projects.
A special item request of $22 million was made. If the entire amount is funded then $12 million will be used to support UHD in providing more basic needs to students, such as hiring mental health counselors, financial literacy training, redesigning the courses to eliminate gaps in learning, increasing academic advising, tutoring, and peer monitoring, among other things.