When Heather Snow began working at the University of Texas Arlington (UT Arlington) almost fifteen years ago, she never foresaw that her job would entail running social service agencies on campus. As the vice president of student affairs and dean of students for student advocacy and support services, her role has changed a great deal in recent years as the university strives to address students' needs both inside and outside of the classroom.
While UT Arlington had experienced one-off examples of students in need of food or housing support for many years, the issue grew exponentially during recent years and even more so with the pandemic when a higher volume of students needed access to the school's social service programs like the campus food pantry. UT Arlington leaders, like Snow and her team, chose to take action to adapt to the growing need for social service offerings. They made a firm commitment to supporting students holistically in their journeys to graduation and meeting the shifting demands of their campus community.
UT Arlington's social service programming is exemplary of a larger trend in the higher education world. The numbers tell the story of growing need among college students at UT Arlington and across the country.
Here's what we know:
- There's a high percentage of need: Forty-seven percent of students at four-year institutions experience food insecurity – a number that is even more problematic because students often have limited access to community resources and cannot access federal nutrition programs
- Students are different too: The average age of students at UT Arlington is 27 years old. Many students are not coming from middle-to-upper-class families and being financially supported throughout college. Increased age also comes with increased responsibility. Students may be supporting themselves and children or loved ones.
- Earning a college degree is not just a line on a resume: Most people don't know that college graduation is a key social determinant of health. College graduates are more likely to be in better health, have a longer life expectancy, and have more access to financial resources in the short and long-term.
Committing to offering social services like UT Arlington is an important first step, but effectively managing the social needs of students also requires technology that was purpose-built to manage social programs, which most colleges don't have in their toolkits. That's why UT Arlington partnered with Pieces and why this type of collaboration is valuable for UT Arlington and for colleges and universities with similar challenges to tackle.
How Pieces Connect will help UT Arlington
UT Arlington chose Pieces Connect because it supports all types of social service programs and resources. It is a cost-efficient way to manage students' needs with case management, as well as reporting and analytics. The software enables administrators to track program activity as students access common resources like food pantries, financial assistance programs, clothing services, and more across the campus. Campus staff can make closed-loop referrals both on campus and into community organizations – and know for certain that students are receiving the additional support they need. Pieces Connect will also help UT Arlington to communicate with students via email and text messaging capabilities.
Why it all matters
The end goal is for every student to graduate – and reaching graduation is not just about attending class or getting good grades. It's about schools like UT Arlington supporting students as people with holistic needs and addressing their overall well-being. To hear more about how UT Arlington is utilizing Pieces Connect, listen to the on-demand webinar "Empowering Student Support Services" with Heather Snow.