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.

2 thoughts on “Housing Insecurity Among Students: Part 1

  1. While I recognize the difficulties in determining the homeless student population at any university, I would be very interested to learn some statistics on it… How many undergrads are homeless? What about graduate students? Especially in light of the new tax bill working its way through Congress, I would anticipate more lifestyle-related issues arising, including housing and food. But it might be easier to help if we knew how wide-spread of an issue this was just to know how to target resources that already exist or develop new ones to compensate for any lack.

    • Mel says:

      The main source of data regarding college students experiencing homelessness is self-reported via the FAFSA. Although this data is better than the typical way of counting people experiencing homelessness (the annual Point-in-time count), it’s unlikely that it gives a very good idea of the actual number of students experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness. You can find the FAFSA data here https://nche.ed.gov/ibt/fafsa.php

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