Posted in November 2017

Housing Insecurity Among Students: Part 1

The impact of housing instability on children is well documented. Children who experience housing instability have negative heath outcomes and less academic success than children with stable housing. And what’s more, these negative impacts extend into adulthood, impacting their future economic opportunities. Housing instability among college students is less well documented– perhaps because people think of low-incomes among college students as a somewhat temporary, less serious circumstances. On the contrary, homelessness not only impedes academic performance and degree completion, but could put students at risk physically and the associated financial insecurity could threaten their future.

I was surprised to read some of the stats in a HUD PD&R (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research) guidebook: “Addressing Housing Insecurity and Living Costs in Higher Education.” The guidebook explains that many college students have responsibilities that compete with academics for their time and money. The most striking stat was that more than 15% of undergraduate students are single parents. The Wisconsin HOPE Lab co-authored the guidebook with PD&R, so there are also a lot of stats on Wisconsin but these problems are not likely to be isolated to Wisconsin, so they’re interesting.  In a survey of 4,000 students in 10 community colleges, HOPE Lab found that nearly one half of respondents struggle with food or housing insecurity.

I snooped around to see what else I could find on this topic. Another PD&R article, “Barriers to Success: Housing Insecurity for U.S. College Students” notes that college tuition, like housing costs, is rising while real incomes remain stagnant or even decrease, making it harder and harder for students to afford both tuition and necessities like housing, food, and medical care. The article explains that many students struggle to find adequate affordable housing and that at least 56,000 college students experience homelessness.

The Chronicle of Higher Education had tackled the subject in “How to Help the Students With No Homes?” The Chronicle profiles a Virginia student who has been chronically homeless since age 7. During the school year she lives on campus in the dorms, but during breaks, she experiences homelessness. The Chronicle also gets to what I mentioned in the beginning of this post–college student homelessness is not well documented. The article explains, “homeless college students remain a largely invisible population — often indistinguishable from their peers and overlooked in policy debates. They get less attention than former foster youth and are often excluded from programs and policies benefiting such students. Many hide their homelessness from professors and peers out of shame or fear of being pitied. Many college administrators aren’t even aware that homeless students are present on their campuses.” What’s more, most of the information I found on college student homelessness is somewhat dated even though the problem is still widespread and sure to get worse if new taxes are imposed on graduate students.

So what can be done and what is being done to help college students who experience homelessness? I’ll look for solutions and discuss what’s out there in a follow-up post.

Living Tech

Our homes and the way we use them are changing as technology becomes more expansive and accessible. Now, realtors hear prospective buyers ask about upload speed before school quality and crime statistics. More and more people work from home at least some of the time, many learn from home, and we consume more entertainment media from home. On-campus student residences (dorms) are no different, in fact they’re at the forefront of this trend. But, is the in-dorm, learning experience diluting or enhancing the college experience? There are faculty on both sides of the argument, but I think, at the end of the day, it’s got to enhance the learning experience.

The New York Times published an article in 2010 about students taking online classes from their dorms. Even though they could walk to class, they chose to stay home and attend class online. Other classes were only online, with too many students to accommodate in a classroom. Some faculty lamented the loss of in-person teaching and learning while others embraced it for practical reasons like budget requirements and ability to re-watch the lecture. Now, we’re a long way from just taking classes from the dorms. Universities and their students are beginning to integrate learning in the dorms in a big way– with high tech labs adjacent to (or in!) students’ rooms.

Here are some examples:

Residence-life coordinators seem to have fully embraced this opportunity as an enhancement for students (at least that’s what the propaganda suggests), but how do faculty feel? My scan of a whole lot of articles seems to indicate that faculty embrace the living-learning model and make it ever-more successful. That said, this seems like an “opt-in” role for faculty, not a prescribed technological change. Some faculty go all in and opt to become faculty in residence. There are ups and down’s to becoming a faculty in residence, as one might expect. The experience of a few is documented in this article from Inside Higher Ed.  Further, this article from the Chronicle suggests that faculty experience unforeseen benefits from cross-disciplinary interactions with other faculty in living-learning environments. The benefits don’t necessarily stem directly from the technology, the technology just helps to set the mood.  I had to hunt for it, but there are also unforeseen consequences documented in David Buchanan Smith’s dissertation, Unintended Consequences of Collegiate Living Learning Community Programs at a Public University. Although I didn’t read the whole thing, the gist seems to be that students experience consequences when, over time, faculty and coordinators disengage. However, he doesn’t cite technology as part of the challenge, rather lack of planning, lack of maintenance and contentious relationships between faculty and staff were all cited as possible sources of the consequences. Indeed, I think that technology is usually an enhancement with the right planning and maintenance bolstered by good communication, the bedrock of good relationships.