TICAS works to ensure that federal and state policies and systems are aligned to improve access and completion of postsecondary credentials for students from minoritized and poverty-impacted communities.

Why it Matters


Many federal programs that could improve economic mobility explicitly restrict postsecondary education. These include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, and child care subsidies provided by the Child Care & Development Fund (CCDF). Instead, federal and state public benefit and workforce development programs prioritize “employment and training activities” that often do not lead to improved wages or well-being. These confounding rules create a poverty trap for individuals and families that stymies economic growth and contradicts evidence that a postsecondary credential is one of the most reliable mechanisms to improve employability.

People must be able to meet their basic needs such as food, housing, transportation and childcare to access and complete a postsecondary credential.

  • Enrolled Students: Basic needs insecurity among enrolled postsecondary students has become a greater focus in higher education as it is correlated with increased anxiety, depression, poorer health and less successful postsecondary outcomes for students
  • Public Benefit Recipients: Improving postsecondary completion among people with no credential or degree has increasingly become a priority for states working to improve economic wellbeing and workforce development outcomes.


In recognition of the demand from employers and the clear benefits, people with low incomes are enrolling in higher education at rates higher than their middle and upper income peers. Yet many people with low incomes and communities of color face greater barriers accessing and completing a postsecondary credential, hindering economic mobility, exacerbating the racial wealth gap, undermining investments in federal and state higher education, and hampering the economy.


Programs that provide resources to people with low incomes could facilitate access to postsecondary credentials but instead prioritize low wage work or even volunteering under the guise of “workforce development”. These approaches directly contradict evidence that postsecondary credentials lead to improved wages and increase the ability of people to move out of poverty permanently.


Research shows that jobs requiring more education are predicted to grow faster than average. Programs that focus on increasing employment without improving wages do not allow people to achieve self-sufficiency. Without education beyond high school many people are trapped in a cycle of low wage work that affects current and future generations.

TICAS Solutions

Higher education is workforce development. Research shows that each level of postsecondary education achieved is correlated with improved social, economic, and health outcomes including higher earnings, lower unemployment and poverty rates, and improved educational outcomes for children. Workers with a postsecondary education also benefit from the majority of jobs with retirement and healthcare benefits.

Public programs should support evidence-based approaches that lead to improved employability and economic security. Aligning public benefits to facilitate postsecondary credential access and completion supports the ability of people to access the resources they need on their pathway to becoming self-sufficient.

Our Priorities

Ensure postsecondary credentials and degrees are included in the definition of “Employment & Training” programs to meet activity and participation requirements.

Reduce or eliminate duplicative or burdensome restrictions and criteria that serve as a barrier for people engaged in or trying to access postsecondary programs.

image illustrating how removing restrictions on education increases college access and completion and improves self-sufficiency.

 Income and Basic Needs


of undergraduate students have incomes below 200% of the federal poverty line


of 2-year college students experience food insecurity


of 4-year college students experience food insecurity