Study Finds High Levels of Hunger and Homelessness Among Community College Students

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Homeless Teenage Girl On Streets With Rucksack

Two out of three community college students struggle to afford food, and approximately 14 percent are homeless, according to a study released last week by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab that looked at the basic needs insecurity of 33,000 students enrolled at 70 community colleges across the U.S.

The study found that food and housing insecurity among these students does not widely vary based on region, but schools in areas with a high cost of living are somewhat more likely to have students struggling to meet their basic needs. Additionally, institutions that enroll a large number of Pell Grant recipients and/or a higher percentage of students of color are slightly more likely to have students who have trouble affording food and housing.

One of the few clear indicators that a student is more likely to face hunger and housing insecurity, according to the study, is whether they had ever been placed in foster care. Findings showed that these individuals are twice as likely to be homeless as their peers.

Students who are parents are also more likely to face economic hardships, with more than 60 percent reporting experiencing food insecurity. The study also found that a significant number of these individuals do not receive outside financial assistance, such as government-provided SNAP benefits, which often have special restrictions on student eligibility.

A disturbing aspect of the study, its authors say, is that one-third of students who are struggling to meet their basic needs are employed and receiving financial aid. Despite this, many of them also take out loans or use credit cards to pay for their education.

According to the study’s authors, the takeaway is that community colleges are not doing enough to help their students meet their basic needs. The study offers several recommendations regarding ways that community colleges can better assist struggling students; these include creating an office or committee charged with assessing student hunger and housing needs, creating an on-campus food pantry, and providing emergency short-term housing.

Also included in the study are recommendations on next steps to be taken by state and federal policymakers, which include revising financial aid policies and extending the eligibility of government assistance programs so that more students can qualify.