14% of community college students are homeless, finds new survey

For many, financial aid is not sufficient

A new survey from the University of Wisconsin reveals higher rates of hunger and homelessness among community college students than previously thought.

The survey included more than 33,000 students at 70 community colleges in 24 states.

Researchers found that, among student respondents:

  • Roughly two thirds are food insecure, meaning they have limited or uncertain access to nutritious and safe food;
  • Around half are housing insecure, meaning they are forced to move often or struggle to afford rent and utilities; and
  • About 14% are homeless.

Researchers discovered a few differences between homeless students and their peers. Homeless students worked more irregular hours, earned lower wages, and tended to work in jobs less strongly related to their chosen careers.

In many cases, students experienced homelessness or housing/food insecurity despite having financial aid.

"Food insecure students appear to be struggling to make ends meet despite working or reaching out for assistance," the report notes.

Homelessness and housing/food insecurity were also prevalent at all types of institutions, say the researchers: more-expensive schools and less-expensive schools, as well as urban, suburban, and rural colleges.

The 2015 survey found a 13% rate of homelessness among community college students and a roughly 20% rate of food insecurity. Researchers point out the 2017 sample size was much larger and, because it took place earlier in the school year, was more likely to include the most vulnerable students before they dropped out (Carapezza, NPR, 3/15; Bendix, The Atlantic, 3/15).

No home for the holidays: What you can do to support homeless students over college breaks

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