Faculty Senate begins support initiative for low-income students

The Store, Baylor's food pantry, is located in the Sid Richardson building and actively provides food to students in need. To donate or learn more about The Store visit https://www.baylor.edu/ssi/index.php?id=947350. | Courtesy of baylor.edu

By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer

After a presentation by the Low-Income Student Success Team to the Faculty Senate on Jan. 12, the Senate began raising donations to provide funding for meal cards, already reaching over double its goal.

Matt Cordon, chair of the Faculty Senate, director of the legal writing center and professor of law, said raising donations for meal cards is only the first step toward addressing the needs of low-income students.

“That was just the initial goal — to provide immediate health for food and security. But we’re not going to stop there,” Cordon said. “We’re looking at initiatives to raise that amount even more. We’re also looking at other ideas on how to help students with textbook costs. So the donation page was just the first step among several different strategies to try to help these students in need.”

Even beyond raising money for textbooks, Cordon said there will be discussions on how to lower the costs of textbooks for students in general.

A member of the Low-Income Student Success Team, the director of undergraduate enrollment initiatives and a professor of psychology and neuroscience, Dr. Lynn Wisely, said 19% of Baylor’s undergraduate students were Pell grant eligible in the 2018-2019 school year, meaning their family’s household income is less than $50,000 a year.

“Affording books and healthy food is a strain for many,” Wisely said. “Baylor is committed, as recorded in Illuminate, our University guiding document, ‘Baylor is committed to recruit, retain, and graduate an academically excellent and diverse student body.’ If a student is admitted to Baylor, we want all students to succeed regardless of their financial situation. For our low-income students, this translates to, among other things, help with food and books needs.”

Dr. Sinda Vanderpool, associate vice provost for academic enrollment management and member of the Low-Income Student Success Team, said one of their primary goals as a committee is to educate the Baylor community about the struggles students are facing.

“What we are aiming to do overall is to try to reduce the equity gap,” Vanderpool said. “Basically if you are a low-income student, you’re less likely to graduate at the same rate as the higher income here. This long term goal is to reduce the gap in graduation and retention rates of low-income students.”

Vanderpool said the committee members plan to speak to other organizations on campus to spread awareness and call more groups to action.

“We would love to share this information because we do have a rich set of data, because we have those survey questions and then we have access to some financial information about our students,” Vanderpool said.

Students who are low-income also may not know all their options to afford groceries beyond The Store, a free food pantry on the Baylor campus, Vanderpool said.

“In the recent CARES Act legislation that the Congress passed, they are making SNAP benefits available to a wider group of Americans,” Vanderpool said. “If a student is truly experiencing regular food insecurity The Store isn’t going to be able to sustain them, but helping them know that there’s the SNAP benefits that are available where they can go to a store and get reduced or free groceries is an example of something that we could also help with.”

Vanderpool said they hope to raise awareness to donors and alumni so in the future an endowment fund can be made to aid low-income students with the costs of textbooks and food.

“Obviously you can’t be your best self in the classroom if you’re hungry and not eating nutritious meals so all of that is kind of adding up to this goal of our low income students being able to come to campus and not have to spend their time and energy looking for nutritious meals rather than focusing on their studies,” Vanderpool said.