The Policy Leaders of Texas Fellowship Program is an initiative sponsored by Every Texan that provides students with the necessary resources, knowledge, and social justice framework to champion issues in higher education policy that are a part of a self-identified and self-constructed policy agenda that demands transformative change. Through the program tenets — empowerment, learning, and leadership development — we envision a postsecondary education system in Texas that is accessible, affordable, safe, healthy, and supportive for all students.
Access to higher education is not dependent solely on tuition costs — a lack of child care, limited transportation, unfamiliarity with finance options, and physical inaccessibility are just a few of the factors that create barriers for students. Universities should strive to provide resources that reduce all impediments to truly make higher education more accessible for all students.
- Universities should provide financially accessible child care for staff and students. Existing child care programs should receive more funding to fully accommodate needs.
- All buildings, events, and campus spaces should be physically accessible to all students, and accessibility must be constantly monitored to ensure accommodations are made quickly and effectively.
- Learning outcomes are largely influenced by the tools accessible to students. Every campus building should have Wi-Fi, heating and air conditioning, bathrooms, classroom technology, etc. in excellent condition for student use.
- To improve college accessibility for marginalized students, admission and financial aid should focus less on traditional methods of merit and instead emphasize non-traditional factors, such as work experience and application essays.
Higher education should be accessible for all students, but with increasing tuition rates and living costs across the country in the last five years, higher education programs have become unsustainable or altogether unattainable for many. Universities must subsidize the cost of tuition and basic necessities for all students and offer safe and inexpensive housing options.
- Achieving a higher education should be free of any financial burden. Universities should be responsible for the costs of learning, like technology, books, transcript fees, and other supplies students need for success.
- Attending a university creates a financial burden for students. In order to make higher education more accessible, there needs to be an emphasis on providing more opportunities for students to negate the financial burden, including more scholarships and work study programs.
- Universities must ensure housing has adequate infrastructure and that students are safe from security threats and environmental injustice.
- Housing must be accessible and affordable for all students — there should be adequate housing that meets student demand and costs a reasonable amount, as well as proper zoning to allow universities to increase student housing as needed.
- Universities should prioritize services that are critical for student success and attendance such as child care and accessible, affordable parking.
Campus Justice and Safety
Historically, universities have failed to place student justice and safety at the forefront of campus justice initiatives. Universities can only accomplish true campus safety through the implementation of restorative justice practices and the abolition of campus police in favor of investing in community-based student resources.
Current Title IX practices on campus often prioritize and even require a carceral approach to Title IX offenses that involves reporting, disciplinary hearings, and police involvement. Restorative justice offers a framework that prioritizes accountability, safety, and dialogue, and should guide Title IX proceedings and other disciplinary issues in order to serve all students.
- Universities should implement the restorative justice framework into Title IX practices by exploring more options for Title IX resolution outside of official case documentation and punitive action, such as chosen informal solutions or restorative justice centers.
- Universities should also offer restorative justice options for students involved in incidents that fall outside of Title IX.
- Campus police should be abolished in favor of time and personnel investments towards non-police solutions; mental health resources; and funding for books, technology, and reduced tuition.
Health Care: Physical and Mental
Health care is a human right, and universities have a responsibility to provide their students and alumni with free or low-cost health care and mental health resources. These resources include eye care, dental care, reproductive and sexual care, non-punitive substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, and assistance in referring students to off-campus doctors and pharmacies.
- University health services must prioritize mental health resources by increasing staff to meet student demand, providing more mental health support groups, and destigmatizing the use of these services.
- Campuses can foster a health-focused culture through hiring more dietitians and promoting their services to increase student involvement.
- Institutions should promote and employ a diverse approach to destigmatizing student health, including student-led mental health groups, gender- and identity-based accommodations, and dedicated spaces for BIPOC, LGBTQ students, disabled students, undocumented students, and student-parents to offer individualized support.
- Less than half of college students with persisting mental health issues seek care. There must be campus-wide efforts to reduce the stigma around accessing mental health care including investment in professionals and campaigns to increase student comfort and trust in seeking mental health care.
Student services enable institutions to serve the whole student and extend beyond costs directly related to their university. To accomplish this goal, students need access to nutritious and affordable meals, the ability to receive health care, and investments in cultural spaces that allow students to feel safe and in community.
- Students should have access to campus-funded food pantries with mobile and delivery capabilities.
- Universities should provide food support for students — and their families if necessary — in the form of either food or funds for students to go grocery shopping.
- Many students do not use existing food security resources because they are unaware of them. Universities should invest in widely promoting these resources.
- Students should have access to affordable, quality housing near campus that is connected to reliable transportation.
Administration, Faculty, and Staff
The priority for administration, staff, and faculty of a university must be to provide an environment that is welcoming and accommodating to all students in the classroom and beyond. To create this environment, administrations need to establish more comprehensive feedback systems that incorporate the ideas, thoughts, and experiences of a diverse group of students and use this feedback to guide future agendas.
- Universities must engage with their student population by actively consulting traditional and nontraditional student organizations during decision-making.
- Diverse faculty and a commitment to student inclusivity must be a priority to ensure student satisfaction and engagement.
- Students should receive a high-quality education. Therefore professors’ teaching skills should be continuously improved through training.
- Universities should be financially transparent by providing an itemized tuition bill to gain student trust in their institution.
Universities should strive to implement transparency measures for students to see what the university has accomplished and to see where students can voice their ideas on areas where the universities can improve. Along with more student democracy, more policies should be implemented to make local, state, and federal elections more accessible for students, administration, and staff.
- Due to the importance of civic engagement, universities should make accommodations for election day such as not having class, not having assignments due, and allowing student absences if they are volunteering during the early voting period.
- Voting should be accessible to all students. Polling places should be proportionate to the student population and within a reasonable range of campus, and universities should provide free transportation for students to these polling places.
- Universities should work towards making student IDs a legal form of identification for voting.
- Universities should expand their efforts in keeping students aware of administration and institutional decision-making, along with being transparent about how student advocacy impacts these decisions.
This blog was cowritten by the 2021 – 2022 Policy Leaders of Texas cohort:
Isabel Agbassi – The University of Texas at Austin
Braelynn Barborka – The University of Texas at Austin
Faith Cachay – The University of Texas at Arlington
David Harrison – The University of Texas at Tyler
Alexis Kosloski – University of North Texas
Suseth Munoz – The University of Texas at Austin
Julia Zaksek – The University of Texas at Austin