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  • Elizabeth Laughlin

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and How It Affects Student Retention

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a psychological idea proposed by Abraham Maslow in 1943. He essentially breaks down a person's innate needs into 5 steps on a ladder: a person must meet the previous need before they can move on to a higher one. For example, a person's physiological needs must be met before they can begin tackling their safety needs. Esteem must be met before self-actualization. Safety must be met before love and belonging--you get the idea.

But what does this have to do with literacy, education, and Literacy Lubbock?

A lot, actually.

Before we can dive into why we believe that, we need to zoom out and look at Lubbock on the whole. According to the Lubbock Area United Way's ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) about half the people living in Lubbock struggle to make ends meet. Whether they're below the poverty level or still have a job but don't earn enough income to cover all their, nearly 50% of the people in the Hub City don't have enough money to meet their physiological needs.

And we're back to Maslow. Those physiological needs translate, in today's society, to food, rent, electricity, water bills, etc. And for nearly half the people in Lubbock, those needs aren't being met.

Which makes education difficult. Learning something new, whether it's how to read, English as a second language, or material for the GED test, is a marathon. Not a sprint. It takes time, effort, and dedication to learn. And the motivation behind why a person wants to learn plays a monumental impact in that marathon. They might need it for better employment opportunities, to make enough money to buy a house, to prove they can do it, to model better behavior for their kids.

And what do all those motivations have in common?

They aren't the first level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. They might be on the second level, the third, maybe even the fourth or fifth.

Thus, the problem of student retention is born. For many of our students, they know education is a pathway forward. A way for them to reach higher on the hierarchy, to realize a more stable, prosperous future. And it might not be that way for everyone--outliers do exist--but on the average, education is the surest way to pave toward future success. But how can they build toward it if their first level needs aren't being met? If they have to prioritize their physiological needs first, as the human body demands?

In the marathon of learning, when their physiological needs are still lacking, they can't keep up the pace of continued studying. And so their retention begins to slip.

It we want our students to continue coming to class, their physiological needs must be met. But in a city where half are still struggling with these basics needs, it's an uphill battle to ensure they can move onto the next rung in Maslow's pyramid. And reach a space where they can run wild with their educational goals.

Community assistance programs are more important than ever right now. If you or someone you know needs a little help with that first level, check out this list of community resources. And let's help our Lubbock neighbors lock down their physiological needs so they can start their educational journeys!


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