This month, a new study called the #RealCollege Survey published alarming statistics about the social well-being of California community college students. The study estimated that around 20% of California community college students have experienced homelessness in the last year, 60% have experienced recent housing insecurity, and 50% have experienced food insecurity (1). The #RealCollege Survey was completed on community college campuses across California in the fall of 2016 and 2018. It’s worth noting that college students experiencing poverty, homelessness, and food/housing insecurity is not unique to California as educational institutions across the country face these issues.

According to StandUp for Kids, a nonprofit organization that serves homeless youth, the rising costs of housing and stagnant wages across the country (2) have made it increasingly challenging for families to support their college-age children pursuing higher education. Parents may find themselves unable to help their children at all or at least struggle to pay for both tuition and housing, leaving students to make their own accommodations. Some students may not even have the support of parents, such as students who were raised in foster care. The #RealCollege survey noted that these students experienced homelessness at a higher rate than children of parents with either a bachelor’s degree or higher education (1).

While college campuses have been reporting student homelessness growing in recent years, the recent publication is one of the first to study the problem with a student survey. Over 40,000 students participated in the survey conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University’s College of Education in Philadelphia. Key observations are highlighted below:

Actual homelessness rates among students are likely higher.

Only six percent of students labeled themselves as homeless, while the other thirteen percent were only classified as homeless after stating where they lived (shelters, hotels, couchsurfing, etc).

This indicates the likelihood that other surveys that estimate rates of homelessness through self disclosure are understating the true values.

Sixty percent of California community college students have experienced housing insecurity in the last year.

Housing insecurity encompasses a category of experiences ranging from difficulty or inability to pay rent to having to move frequently.

Students may need to move frequently for a variety of reasons, such as living in areas which feel unsafe or being forced out of a living situation due to the space being over-capacity.

Fifty percent of California community college students have experienced food insecurity in the past month.

Food insecurity is defined as limited access to adequate supplies of nutritious food or the inability to access food via socially acceptable means.

Removing non-academic barriers to student success.

Homelessness on college campuses is a growing problem across the country. Students who are experiencing homelessness, housing insecurity, or food insecurity face risks not only to their well-being, but also to their education. Many students experiencing these challenges are not able to graduate due to the greater mental burden of securing access to life essentials such as food or housing. To help these students succeed, we need to become aware of their presence on campuses across the country and take action to help them connect with resources to support their social needs.

Many institutions of higher education are already partnering with Aunt Bertha to address the social needs of students. With our platform, they can help students and their families remove non-academic barriers to student success. Through an assessment, staff can identify and refer students to community resources which are often provided on campus. Aunt Bertha enables institutions of higher education to connect the dots between the campus and the community, gaining a deeper understanding of the impact those connections have on a student’s success in the process. Our higher education partners include forward thinking institutions such as Ivy Tech Community College, St. Edward’s University, University of South Florida, and NC Community Colleges to name just a few.

We also partner with nonprofit organizations serving homeless populations, such as StandUp for Kids. Many of our nonprofit partners place a search engine powered by Aunt Bertha, with their own branding, onto their websites so that the communities they serve can search for social assistance on their own. You can check out an example of Aunt Bertha’s configurable search engine here!

References

  1. Goldrick-Rab, Sara, et al. California Community Colleges #RealCollege Survey. The Hope Center, 1 Mar. 2019, Christine Baker-Smith.
  2. http://www.standupforkids.org/blog/article/the-cost-of-an-education-homeless-college-students