Mesa Community College (MCC) and the Arizona Department of Economic Security (D.E.S) have opened a new benefits facility on campus as part of an initiative to counter poverty within the state. Students and the general public will now be able to utilize the student success center within MCC for applications and eligibility processing for the D.E.S., as well as learn more about the services available to them such as medical care, transportation and employment.
“We want to remove as many barriers as we can, and I think the biggest are transportation to and from some of the locations within the county to complete the application and going through the interview process… we could bring all of that to the college campus so the students here attending class can leave and come right into this facility here and see someone to get the type of support that they need,” Felicia Ganther, Vice Chancellor of the Maricopa Community Colleges District said.
MCC is one of only four colleges chosen by the D.E.S to pilot test these new initiatives and one of the first community colleges in the nation to have D.E.S benefit processing available on campus.
“We’ve established an initiative called, ‘D.E.S. on the spot’, so across the state now we are going and we are working with various partners and bringing our services right there to where the people are,” Leah Landrum Taylor, Assistant Director of the Department of Economic Security explained. “We’ve heard about the need that Maricopa Community College had and so from there we were able to partner in, and talk about ,and then work with MCC taking that lead on which sites would be the best sites.”
The state department determined the best sites for these facilities using colored representations of data called, “heat maps”. These specific “heat maps” measured poverty and access to D.E.S. facilities. As of now, Mesa Community College, Gateway Community College, Phoenix Community College and Glendale Community Colleges are the first facilities selected to work with the Arizona D.E.S. due to their proximity to impoverished people.
Associated Students of Mesa Community College (ASMCC) student government president Leah Thomspon believes this new facility will aid students who may struggle with transportation, or who may be too embarrassed to seek benefits outside of the school.
“We all know that, as students, if your basic needs are not meant, it’s really hard to focus on your classwork. It just is. If you don’t have food, shelter, or clothing, you definitely need a foundation and those building blocks first,” ASMCC President Thompson said. “They’ll be coming on our campuses to assist students with signing up for things that they need…healthcare, food if they need it, and just making it more convenient, so that they [students] don’t have to leave campus.”
Both Ganther and Landrum agree, the biggest difficulty facing these new initiatives is student participation. If, after a certain period of time, the D.E.S. determines that not enough individuals are using the facility, the new facility might be considered a failure.
“I think our biggest obstacle will be consistent student participation in those programs. We know that DES has to make decisions and choices around whether to provide direct services here on the college campus, or to continue to provide those services at their respective locations. So having a consistent number of student participants who are utilizing those services is going to be the one thing we’ll need to maintain those services here.“