Report: Homelessness on Rise for Community College Students

Homelessness among community colleges is on the rise, according to a new report released by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, a think tank that produces research aimed at improving equitable outcomes in postsecondary education.

Of the 33,000 community college students surveyed, 14 percent are homeless. Two out of three students from 70 community colleges also experience food insecurities.

“These surveys help provide information on the prevalence, and some of the correlates, of food and housing insecurity in higher education,” the report noted.

The study offered several recommendations for community colleges to incorporate on their campuses and highlighted the University of California, Berkley and a Human Services Resource Center at Oregon State University for working to address the issue.

The report also said that state and federal policymakers could simplify the FAFSA to help ease the burden for students suffering from food insecurities, noting that “one-third of community college students experiencing food and/or housing insecurity were both working and receiving financial aid.”

Dr. Jed Richardson, acting director of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab and co-author of the report, said HOPE’s overall message is to produce research that “focuses on college affordability,” he told Diverse via email. “We also attempt to make our findings accessible and useful for practical applications.”

The results of the study showed that half of community college students have experienced housing insecurities, meaning they defaulted on rent payments or “couch-surfed,” jumping from one place to another.

The results also showed that 30 percent of students coming from a foster home are homeless at some point in their community college career.

“The further we dug into this issue (homelessness and food insecurities), it became apparent that these issues were widespread and presented a significant challenge to students’ academic success,” Richardson said.  “Since that time, HOPE has engaged in multiple efforts to better understand basic-needs insecurity in higher education, and, increasingly, to uncover which policies and interventions effectively address students’ material and academic challenges.”

Of those surveyed, 25 percent self-identified as Hispanics and 11 percent self-identified as African Americans. Of the students who participated in the survey, 25 percent are the first in their family to attend college.

For those struggling with any basic needs necessity, Richardson offers this advice: “First, students need to understand that they are not alone in their struggles,” he said.  “Second, students should seek help. Colleges across the country are developing programs to help students with basic needs. For students whose institutions are not yet ready to assist with basic needs, there are community and national organizations providing resources.”

A.K Brunini can be reached at abrunini@diverseeducation.com

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