Last May, Sierra Pierce was furloughed from her job as a loan officer with no notice.
“In one day, I lost my job completely,” said Pierce, who is in her mid-30s and has been a student at Germanna Community College since 2017.
Not only did she suddenly have no income, but she had mounting medical bills and a 7-year-old daughter to support on her own.
Pierce knew about Germanna Cares from flyers posted in campus restrooms. The group runs the campus food pantry and provides emergency financial aid and other services for homeless and housing- or food-insecure students. So when Pierce found herself suddenly jobless, she knew where to turn.
Germanna Cares team member Taylor Landry helped set Pierce up with $600 in emergency aid so she could pay her medical bills. She connected Pierce and her daughter with the college’s food delivery program and helped her apply for gift cards for gas so she could get to school and to her medical appointments from her home in Colonial Beach.
This spring, another emergency aid grant helped Pierce get her car out of the shop and catch up on her rent.
Pierce, who finished work for her associate’s degree in December and is set to receive an accounting certificate from Germanna this spring, said the assistance has helped her be able to finish school while staying home to assist her daughter with virtual school.
She said she never would have been able to get through without Germanna Cares.
“Being a single mom, I’ve always had a full-time job while I’ve been a student for past four years—until COVID—and I never made enough money to really live off my job,” Pierce said. “If it wasn’t for funding from Germanna Cares, there’s no way I would have been able to make it.”
Germanna staff has always known there were unmet financial needs among its student body and that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to exacerbate those needs. Now, the results of a national survey are making clear how many students are affected.
Just under half of Germanna students who responded to the national #RealCollege survey, which is administered annually by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University, are experiencing at least one basic need insecurity.
The #RealCollege survey is the nation’s largest assessment of four- and two-year college students’ basic needs, said Tiffany Ray, vice president of student services for Germanna, and this is the first year Germanna has participated.
Germanna sent the survey to just under 6,000 eligible students and had a response rate of 30 percent, which Ray said is a tremendous success. Of those who responded, 48 percent said they were experiencing insecurity related to at least one basic need.
Twenty-nine percent reported that they had experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days. Thirty-eight percent said they had experienced housing insecurity in the past year and 10 percent said they had been homeless in the past year.
The 2021 #RealCollege survey also asked questions about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students.
Thirty-four percent of Germanna students who responded said a friend or family member had contracted the disease and 5 percent said they contracted it themselves.
“I think what we found is there was great need prior to the pandemic,” Ray said. “Transportation issues, mental health—those aren’t new things. But the survey elucidated that the pandemic has exacerbated these issues.”
Nationally, the results of the 2021 #RealCollege survey revealed even greater need than what was seen in Germanna’s students.
Of the 200,000 students from 202 two-and four-year colleges in 42 states who responded to the survey, three out of five said they had experienced basic needs insecurity. Black students were 16 percent more likely to have experienced a basic need insecurity than white students, the survey found.
Ray said the fact that Germanna students are slightly better positioned than those at other institutions is “a testament to our community.”
“But we don’t want to rest on our laurels,” she said. “We want to make sure we can continue to get the support we need to continue [Germanna Cares programs such as the food pantry, food delivery, emergency aid and transportation assistance].”
Ray said investing in assistance for Germanna students is part of the college’s educational mission.
“Some people would look at college and wonder, ‘Why are you doing all this? Aren’t you supposed to be educating students?’ But the only way some students can stay in class is if we can address their non-educational needs,” she said.
For Pierce, Germanna is “unlike other community colleges.”
“I feel like you will be well taken care of if you have a need,” she said. “They want to see their students be successful and not have to worry themselves about everyday things.”
To donate to the Germanna Educational Foundation, which funds many Germanna Cares initiatives, visit germanna.edu/donate.