Youth Homelessness and Higher Education: An Analysis of FAFSA Data

The report examines a critical component of the basic needs of unaccompanied homeless youth in higher education: financial aid. Without financial aid, postsecondary education–their best hope for lasting housing stability–is simply out of reach.

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Our analysis of four years of Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data for unaccompanied homeless youth finds that:

  1. The number of FAFSA applicants determined to be unaccompanied homeless youth increased by 10% over the past four years, and by 2% between 2015 and 2016. There is great variation among states.
  2. The number of unaccompanied homeless youth determinations made by financial aid administrators has increased in each of the last four reporting cycles.
  3. Nevertheless, determinations made by financial aid administrators continue to lag well behind determinations made by other authorized entities.
  4. Homeless service providers’ determinations have declined significantly.

As demonstrated in the report, the data on unaccompanied homeless youth determinations provide compelling evidence that unaccompanied homeless youth continue to face heightened barriers to obtaining federal financial aid.

The report includes recommendations for policy and practice, including support for the Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act (S.1795/H.R.3740), and increased professional development in schools, shelters, and institutions of higher education.

Finally, the report explains the many characteristics that unaccompanied homeless youth share with former foster youth, and argues that both groups should be afforded similar protections and supports.