An Amazon for social services

Single Stop, known for helping low-income community college students access benefits, is designing software to help people find aid online. That will include student grants and loans, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, food stamps and food pantries, reports Co.Exist.

Single Stop will continue to provide in-person counseling, but expects some users will be able to access help on their own.

“There are many resources are out there, but one of the biggest problems is a lack of coordination, information, and access,” says Elisabeth Mason, chief executive of Single Stop. She compares the software platform to a one-stop shopping resource like Amazon, where visitors can put all the items they want in a virtual shopping cart and check out at the end. Single Stop is also leveraging lessons learned from the advertising industry about how to predict what people will want when they visit the site, the same way that Target can figure out whether a given customer is pregnant.

The pilot will focus on clients looking for college aid and other social services. In New York, Single Stop may also target veterans and clients seeking child care and preschool help.

Clients are asked a short series of questions (family income, ZIP code, etc.), mention the types benefits they’re interested in, and are instantly given an estimate of what they’re eligible to receive each year–say, $3,000 for health insurance, $6,100 in federal and state aid for college tuition, and so on.

. . . Like Amazon, the site offers other recommendations for services based on what similar clients are interested in (i.e If you need help with food, maybe you’d also be interested in unemployment insurance).

Single Stop may add video chats for clients who need more assistance.

Community colleges have partnered with the national nonprofit to open on-campus offices. When low-income students access benefits, they’re more likely to stay in school.

CCs link needy students to benefits

After losing her job in 2005, Sarah Young applied for public aid — and enrolled at  Gateway Community and Technical College in Kentucky. Now she’s a success coach for Gateway’s Benefits Access for College Completion program, which helps low-income students find the aid they need to stay in school, reports Inside Higher Ed. “Our motto is short-term assistance for long-term success,” Young said. “I utilized benefits. It was short–term. You can gain self-sufficiency.”

Gateway is piloting the three-year, $4.84 million initiative along with Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, LaGuardia Community College in New York, Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania, Skyline College in California, and Lake Michigan College and Macomb Community College in Michigan. The Ford, Kresge, Lumina, Open Society and Annie E. Casey Foundations are funding the project.

Advocates hope to lower the drop-out rate.

More than 70 percent of students who drop out of community colleges cite financial burdens and work obligations as their main reasons, said Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy and the director of the Benefits Access for College Completion program. The average community college student had more than $6,000 in unmet financial need during the 2011-2012 school year, Duke-Benfield said.

. . .  The participating community colleges are linking students with groceries, rent assistance and childcare assistance, as well as making them aware of benefits they may not have known they were eligible for, such as Medicaid and food stamps.

At Gateway, faculty now tell their students about available services and the placement exams ask about financial need.

Northampton puts notices on bathroom stalls about food aid.

At Cuyahoga Community College, students can apply for benefits on campus through Project Go!

The next BACC challenge is informing students about their health insurance options: 69 percent of dropouts said health insurance would have helped them “a lot” in getting a degree.

College cuts work hours to duck health costs

To avoid paying for health insurance, a Pittsburgh community college will cut the work hours of 400 adjunct instructors and support staff by Dec. 31, reports Breitbart. Under Obamacare, employers have to provide insurance for employees working 30 or more hours a week. Community College of Allegheny County will cut part-timers to 25 hours a week. Adjuncts will be limited to teaching 10 credit hours a semester, down from 12, for $730 per credit hour. In all, the college will save $6 million.

The college can’t afford to fund benefits, said CCAC spokesperson David Hoovler. “Several years of cuts or largely flat funding from our government supporters have led to significant cost reductions by CCAC, leaving little room to trim the college’s budget further.”

“It’s kind of a double whammy for us because we are facing a legal requirement [under the new law] to get health care and if the college is reducing our hours, we don’t have the money to pay for it,” said adjunct biology professor Adam Davis.

“We all know we are expendable and there are plenty of people out there in this economy who would be willing to have our jobs,” said Davis.

CCAC’s faculty union doesn’t include adjuncts, notes Inside Higher Ed.

Adjunct English professor Clint Benjamin, who has been teaching at the college for six years, pays out-of-pocket for catastrophic health care coverage only and had vague hopes of improved insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Not only is he now ineligible for such help, but the course load reduction will translate to up to $600 less in pay each month.

But Benjamin still will be working full-time. Between the college and nearby Duquesne University, he currently teaches seven courses per semester. He estimated he works up to 70 hours per week, but doesn’t qualify for health insurance at either institution.

“There’s frustration and anger and sadness and resentment, you know, but you don’t have a voice,” Benjamin said.

More help for low-income students

By linking low-income community college students to benefits such as food stamps, medical insurance, child-care assistance, legal aid and other public help, the Benefits Access for College Completion hopes to increase retention and graduation rates.

The American Association of Community Colleges has launched the three-year, $4.84 million initiative, which will be piloted at six community colleges.  Led by the Center for Law and Social Policy and AACC, with funding from the FordKresgeLuminaAnnie E. Casey and Open Society foundations, BACC hopes to help students complete college faster and become economically self-sufficient.

The participating schools are Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Gateway Community and Technical College and Owensboro Community and Technical College in Kentucky, LaGuardia Community College in New York, Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania, and Skyline College in California. In addition, two schools in Michigan — Macomb Community College and Lake Michigan College — will share perspectives from similar work.

LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow said the initiative is a “huge opportunity” to help “financially troubled students get the benefits they are eligible to receive” and to help “shape the policy environment.”