A young woman holding a basket of lettuce.
Story Graduation Initiative

​Caring for the Whole Student

Alisia Ruble

Learn how the CSU supports student success both inside and outside of the classroom.

A young woman holding a basket of lettuce.

All 23 CSU campuses have a food pantry or distribution program as well as staff members to help students sign up for CalFresh benefits. (Photo courtesy of Sacramento State)


​​​​Student success starts with the basics, which is why supporting students’ well-being and basic needs is a key focus of Graduation Initiative 2025, the CSU’s effort to improve graduation rates and eliminate equity gaps in degree completion. 

Recognizing the need to support students outside, as well as inside the classroom, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White commissioned a first-of-its-kind study in 2015 to shed light on how campuses were meeting the needs of students facing food and housing insecurity and to offer recommendations to ensure success for these students.

The study and subsequent research, led by Cal State Long Beach associate professor Rashida Crutchfield, Ph.D., helped to establish the Basic Needs Initiative, which takes a holistic look at students’ well-being, from housing and food security to mental health. 

The CSU has become a national leader in studying the prevalence of food and housing insecurity since the initial study was conducted and, fueled by additional funding from state legislators, has continued to implement new solutions and expand and scale existing support programs and services. 

A few highlights:

  • All 23 campuses have a food pantry or food distribution program. A majority of campuses also provide cooking classes and recipes to help students use food they receive through a distribution program to prepare healthy and affordable meals.
  • All 23 campuses offer students CalFresh application assistance. Additionally, nine campuses accept Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) and 10 campus food retailers allow Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) dollars to be used to purchase hot food. (The CSU also hosted its first-ever university-wide CalFresh Outreach ​Day to help students apply for these essential benefits.)
  • All 23 campuses offer on-campus emergency housing or vouchers for off-campus housing and a majority of campuses offer emergency grants or funds to students who are housing-displaced.
  • 14 campuses currently provide students with free clothing for interviews. A majority of campuses also offer wellness and financial literacy workshops to help students learn life skills.

    Chancellor White with CSULB's Dr. Rashida Crutchfield and Humboldt State's Dr. Jen Maguire, national experts on student well-being.

The CSU recently spearheaded a partnership with the California Community Colleges and the University of California to form the California Higher Education Basic Needs Alliance (CHEBNA), which hosted its inaugural Intersegmental Basic Needs Summit last week. The event brought more than 750 leaders from across the state to explore the efforts of advancing basic needs security and share best practices. 

Chancellor White delivered the opening keynote, thanking attendees for their dedication to students’ well-being and reminding them that their work has the potential to transform lives.

“Our work elevates communities and drives California toward its brightest future,” said White. “When the services and support we provide help a student to overcome these obstacles and earn their degree, the cycle of poverty can be broken.”

Learn more about the CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025 and Student Well-Being & Basic Needs

Follow the links below to see how campuses are meeting students' n​eeds:

Chico State

Chico State's Center for Healthy Communities (CHC) provided a model for CalFresh outreach that has since been scaled university-wide. 

Fresno State

Fresno State holds an annual event, March Match Up, to raise money for the Student Cupboard and raised more $250,000 last year.

Cal State LA

Cal State LA launched a campaign called "Mind Matters" in 2014 to promote mental health and teach students how to manage stress.

Cal Poly Pomona

Cal Poly Pomona's Clothes Closet provides students with free professional attire for interviews and future job opportunities.

Basic Needs Initiative