By Steven Bonini
Framingham State University is participating in the launch of a new program put in place to help homeless high school students get higher education and housing.
Set to begin next fall, the “Moving to College” pilot program will be an expansion of a previous program FSU participated in called the “Massachusetts Student Housing Security Pilot,” according to the University website.
FSU is partnering with its sister institution, MassBay Community College, on this program to help struggling students with homelessness.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website, those who are selected for the scholarship will receive “year-round, on-campus housing, meal plans,” as well as “case management and other support services.”
The website states the scholarship does not cover “tuition & fees, books and supplies or transportation.”
Kay Kastner, coordinator of student support initiatives, said the program would open a total of five scholarship slots for students – three slots for FSU and two slots for MassBay.
Kastner said the program will supply students with “housing for the whole year,” including the summer break, winter break, Thanksgiving break, and spring break.
She added the program will also supply students with access to food, “whether that be a food plan, or whether that be separate allocations for food during times when food services aren’t open on campus.”
Kastner said the expansion program will work to recruit high school students directly via guidance counselors, social workers, and youth services, who will reach out to students who qualify so they can apply for the program.
This is an update from the original program, which only recruited college students who had already completed a semester or more of classes and were in need of housing, according to Kastner.
She added a number of schools have people who are positioned to work with students who are food and housing insecure.
Those students who qualify and want to explore the possibility of higher education are guided toward the scholarship program, she said.
According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in order for a student to qualify for the program, they must meet HUD’s definition of homelessness in one of four categories.
The categories are: Category One – Literal Homelessness; Category Two – Imminent Risk of
Homelessness; Category Three – Homeless Under Other Statutes; or Category Four – Fleeing Domestic Violence.
Applicants must also “complete the free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), provide proof of enrollment at a participating institution no later than July 1, and maintain full-time enrollment, 12 or more credits, in a degree-seeking program and maintain passing grades in order to be eligible for a renewed scholarship,” according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website.
According to The MetroWest Daily News, the “Moving to College” scholarship applications are due March 1.
Kastner said it can sometimes be a challenge to find candidates for the program because although some students have no parents, they may still be part of a “group.”
She discussed a student whose family consists of two sisters and a niece and nephew who would prefer to stay together.
“Being a part of their family is one of the things that helps them to survive,” she said. “While she was homeless, I couldn’t house her in the program because she comes with family.”
Kastner said although the scholarship doesn’t supply students with tuition, fees, books, and
transportation, there are other organizations that students can get benefits through.
She said FSU works with Wayside Tempo and South Middlesex Opportunity Council, which have youth service programs to help students.
She added the youth service providers supply additional resources for students.
“For example, I have known them to fund students who have an emergency, like they had a huge abscess in their mouth, and they needed to cover a dental expense,” she said. “Or suddenly, their car died, and they wouldn’t be able to get to work, and would lose their job, and they provided funding for that and the University does as well.
“The University has a number of student emergency funding programs – there’s student support funds,” she added. “The Independent Association for Framingham State Alumni also has a fund.
“We have a system so that students can apply for emergency funding – that might either come from us or from financial aid that has a certain amount of funding available.”
President F. Javier Cevallos said it’s “heartbreaking” to hear the stories of students who are looking to the scholarship for help.
“It started as part of the conversation we were having on the Board of Higher Education about insecurity for students,” he said. “I think that it was a shock for people to find out that we had homeless students in our institutions.
“I think the things that they have done to succeed, and how hard they work, and having the odds and the difficulties that they have were just truly, truly inspirational,” Cevallos said of the students who were selected for the scholarship.
Cevallos added after the initial program’s launch, the Board of Higher Education knew they could expand it.
“We started with students who were already here, but we know that we have a lot of students who are in high school who are facing a lot of insecurities,” he said. “The idea is now to help those students – make college a reality for them.
“That’s where the program is now going to recruit students, instead of just identifying the students who are already in the system,” he added.
Glenn Cochran, the associate dean of students for student life & director of residence life and housing, said students in the program will complete the housing application as usual and they will be designated a living space.
“The spaces used for the program will have been pre-inspected and approved by HUD, so we will be coordinating with that agency in advance,” he said.
“We will also be working closely with students accepted into the program on vacation housing and meal arrangements,” he added.
Cochran said overall, the program is still a “work in progress.”
Meg Nowak Borrego, dean of students, said she has “assisted with reviewing policies and documents associated with both programs and the selection of qualified students.”
She said she and representatives from other campuses presented these types of programs and resources at conferences.
Nowak Borrego added she thinks it is “wonderful our University, regional community agencies, and the state government are working together to support our students with such significant barriers while earning their college degrees.”