Higher Education

The majority of well-paying jobs created since 2010 require some education beyond high school. Post-secondary attainment is increasingly necessary to move out of poverty and homelessness, and live a healthy, productive life. However many young workers don’t attain a good job until their early thirties and securing a job is harder now than before due to the rising cost of postsecondary education, limited access to high-quality work-based learning, and the absence of comprehensive counseling and career navigation services. Yet youth experiencing homelessness face barriers in transitioning from secondary to post-secondary education, as well as barriers to financial aid, college retention, and college completion. The Every Student Succeeds Act and the Higher Education Act contain provisions designed to remove these barriers, and help homeless youth achieve economic independence through higher education.

Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and Youth Homelessness

This page provides comprehensive FAFSA-related resources to help youth, K-12 educators, homeless service providers, and higher education professionals understand, prepare, and fill out the FAFSA.


Youth Homelessness and Higher Education: An Overview
Postsecondary attainment is increasingly necessary to move out of poverty and homelessness and live a healthy, productive life. Yet youth experiencing homelessness face barriers in transitioning from secondary to postsecondary education, as well as barriers to financial aid, college retention, and college completion. This fact sheet summarizes existing data and information on youth homelessness and higher education.

Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and Youth Homelessness
This page provides comprehensive FAFSA-related resources to help youth, K-12 educators, homeless service providers, and higher education professionals understand, prepare, and fill out the FAFSA.

Tips for Helping Homeless Youth Succeed in College
This SchoolHouse Connection series is focused on helping youth experiencing homelessness succeed in college. We highlight best practices for supporting these students from institutions across the country. Topics include:

  • Transitioning from High School to College
  • Identifying Homeless College Students
  • Housing On and Off Campus
  • Accessing Financial Aid
  • Creating and Sustaining Campus-Based Programs
  • Parenting Students
  • Supporting College Students Experiencing Homelessness During COVID: Dos and Don’ts

Tips for Homeless Higher Education Liaisons
Many institutions of higher education are designating liaisons for students experiencing homelessness. Similar to their counterparts in K-12 education, homeless higher education liaisons support students by connecting them to available resources on and off-campus, and removing barriers to their college retention and success. These tip sheets provide basic strategies for higher education liaisons.

Back to College and Training 2020: An Editable Toolkit for Assisting Youth with Experience in Foster Care or Homelessness.
This toolkit from the Juvenile Law Center, SchoolHouse Connection, and Youth Villages contains the following elements:

  • Tips for Advocates and supporters of young people so advocates can provide assistance to students as they plan for the coming year.
  • Tips for Higher Education Institutions so institutions and their support staff can develop effective policies that are responsive to the needs of young people with experience in foster care and homelessness.
  • A list of general resources for students.

How Emergency Aid Can Prevent Homelessness Among College Students
Emergency aid programs offer financial resources for students who face an unexpected crisis that could prevent them from completing their academic term. These programs can be helpful for all college students, but they are especially critical for those experiencing homelessness or those who are at risk of becoming homeless. This SchoolHouse Connection brief provides examples of emergency aid programs and offers strategies for streamlining services.

5 Guides to Help Homeless College Students in California
The California Homeless Youth Project and SchoolHouse Connection are proud to announce a series of five practical guides to support homeless and low-income college students in California. This series provides concise overviews of the five greatest needs of students experiencing homelessness: housing supports, CalFresh application assistance, FAFSA completion, mental health services, and access to supportive services.

Pathways to Partnership: Higher Education
This second “Pathways to Partnership” series is designed to help LEA homeless liaisons and homeless service providers to 1) gain a basic understanding of some important higher education programs, including those programs that have specific requirements on homelessness; and 2) create and sustain higher education partnerships. Connecting youth and young adults who experience homelessness with the appropriate resources will help pave a smoother transition to and through postsecondary education.

Early Care and Education Advocacy: A Tip Sheet for Housing and Homeless Assistance Providers
This short document provides basic information to help housing and homeless assistance providers advocate with their families and youth for appropriate educational services, from birth through higher education. The rights and protections outlined here apply to all children and youth experiencing homelessness, as defined by the education subtitle of the McKinney-Vento Act.

Partner Resources

The National Center for Homeless Education is the U.S. Department of Education’s technical assistance center on the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness. NCHE has compiled a comprehensive higher education and homelessness resources page.

Established in October 2004 and administered by the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS), the REMS TA Center provides a hub of information, resources, training, and services in the field of school and higher ed emergency operations planning.

Online training to support college transition for homeless youth.
Created by John Burton Advocates for Youth, this online training offers a series of brief lectures on topics such as creating a college-going culture, application, enrollment, and financial aid, all through the lens of special considerations for students who have experienced homelessness. The lectures are accompanied by optional quizzes and activities to support retention of the material. While the focus is on California, much of the material is applicable nationwide.

I Want to Go to College: Now What? A Guide for Youth Who are or Were Homeless, or Are at Risk of Experiencing Homelessness
Published by the U. S. Department of Education, this guide provides information and resources on applying to, paying for, and succeeding in college. It was written specifically for youth who are or were ever homeless, or are at risk of experiencing homelessness.

School Counselor Supports for College Preparation and Readiness for Students Experiencing Homelessness
This NCHE brief explores the role of school counselors in providing college preparation and readiness to students experiencing homelessness, and recommends school partnership strategies to ensure that homeless students receive the individualized supports needed to transition successfully to postsecondary education.

NCHE Improving Equity in and Access to Quality CTE Programs for Students Experiencing Homelessness
This new resource identifies common barriers to high-quality CTE pathways and recommends strategies for how CTE and homeless education leaders can work together to build new opportunities for learners experiencing homelessness in their state to access and succeed in CTE programs.

The FAFSA Simplification Act: Youth Experiencing Homelessness and Youth with Experience in Foster Care
The FAFSA Simplification Act (enacted as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 and updated by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022) aims to remove many of the barriers faced by youth experiencing homelessness or with experience in foster care. The new provisions for homeless and foster youth should go into effect for the 2023-2024 award year, and be reflected on the new FAFSA on October 1, 2022. Here’s a summary of the changes.

DCL GEN-22-15: FAFSA Simplification Act Changes for Implementation in 2023-24
On November 4, the U.S. Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague Letter that announces changes from the FAFSA Simplification Act that will go into effect for the 2023-2024 FAFSA award year. View the list of changes here.

State Laws Supporting College Students Experiencing Homelessness
State legislatures have been actively supporting college students experiencing homelessness over the past few years. This document provides a summary of existing strong state laws. SchoolHouse Connection is working with partners in Texas on a new state law to support the thousands of Texas students striving to complete college without safe, stable housing.

Housing Support for Homeless and Foster Youth: Implementing AB 1228
California has enacted a number of laws to support college students experiencing homelessness, including through housing. In 2009, state law (AB 1393) provided priority access to on-campus housing for former foster youth. In 2015, homeless youth were added to the statute, through the enactment of AB 1228. This brief examines some of the most common challenges in implementing AB 1228 and provides tips for addressing them. It was informed by interviews with eight California State University (CSU) campuses, three University of California (UC) institutions, and two California Community Colleges (CCC).

SchoolHouse Connection  

“Working Harder Just to Be Seen and Heard:” Barriers to Financial Aid for Homeless and Foster Youth
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. This report examines recently released 2020-2021 federal data that help illustrate the impact of the pandemic on FAFSA completion for youth experiencing homelessness and youth with experience in foster care.

Warning Signs: 2019-20 Homelessness FAFSA Data Signals Impact of the Pandemic
Recently released FAFSA numbers for unaccompanied homeless youth provide early indications of the impact of the pandemic on the higher education prospects of youth experiencing homelessness. Our analysis reveals drops in the number of UHY FAFSA determinations by school district liaisons for the first time, and other concerning trends. These findings demand attention and action: youth experiencing homelessness need additional support now more than ever if they are to access financial aid and obtain the education that is the key to overcoming homelessness. 

FAFSA and Homeless Youth: Challenges & Recommendations in the COVID-19 Era
This 2020 SchoolHouse Connection report examines six years of financial aid data for unaccompanied homeless youth. These data demonstrate continued barriers to financial aid access – barriers that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Youth Homelessness and Higher Education: An Analysis of FAFSA Data – SchoolHouse Connection released “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. It also includes recommendations for policy and practice.

A February 2017 SchoolHouse Connection report, This is How I’m Going to Make a Life for Myself:” An Analysis of FAFSA Data and Barriers to Financial Aid for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth, provides insights into the challenges that unaccompanied homeless youth face in accessing federal financial aid. The report is based on newly available U.S. Department of Education (ED) data from the 2015-2016 Application Cycle of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The ED data also provide state-by-state breakdowns of the numbers of applicants determined to be (or at risk of becoming) unaccompanied homeless youth. These data will help states assess progress in implementing important new ESSA provisions designed to help youth experiencing homelessness transition from high school to post-secondary education.

Government Accountability Office (GAO) 

In December 2018, the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report entitled Food Insecurity: Better Information Could Help Eligible College Students Access Federal Food Assistance Benefits. Increasing evidence indicates that some college students are experiencing food insecurity, which can negatively impact their academic success. However, college students are only eligible for SNAP in certain cases. Given the substantial federal investment in higher education and the risk posed if students do not complete their degrees, GAO was asked to review food insecurity among college students. 

In May 2016, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the challenges and barriers affecting the ability of homeless and foster youth to pursue a college education. The GAO found that burdensome program rules can hinder the ability of homeless and foster youth to access federal supports; extensive documentation requests can impede access to aid for homeless youth; annual re-verification of homelessness poses barriers for unaccompanied homeless youth; and that limited academic preparation, family support, and awareness of resources make it harder for homeless and foster youth to pursue college.

Hope Center 

#RealCollege 2021: Basic Needs Insecurity During the Ongoing Pandemic – This report examines the pandemic’s impact on students who were able to continue their education during this challenging time. Nearly 200,000 students from over 202 colleges and universities participated in the survey. The report found that 14% of students both at 2 and 4-year institutions experienced homelessness. The report also examined students’ access to food, mental health services, and overall well-being.

#RealCollege During the Pandemic – Institutional Responses  – The Hope Center developed a pandemic-oriented, institution-based survey that was administered between April 9 and May 29, 2020. The survey yielded responses from 165 institutions in 36 states. The results reveal that nine of ten respondents were looking for additional help to address students’ food and housing needs, which were already areas of concern prior to the pandemic.

#RealCollege During the Pandemic – On June 15, 2020, the Hope Center published a report that examines the impact of COVID-19 and school closures on the security of students’ basic needs. It found that 11% of students at two-year institutions and almost 15% at four-year institutions were experiencing homelessness due to the pandemic. The vast majority of homeless students were couch-surfing or staying in other temporary accommodations. On-campus students and off-campus students experienced similar rates of food insecurity (34% vs. 31%) and homelessness during the pandemic (17% vs. 15%). The report also found significant disparities in the pandemic’s impact on the security of college students’ basic needs, with the highest rates among Indigenous, Black, and Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian students.

#RealCollege2020 Research Shows 17% of College Students Experienced Homelessness in 2019 – On February 12, 2020, the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice published #RealCollege 2020, the fifth annual #RealCollege survey on basic needs insecurity among college students. In 2019, nearly 167,000 students from 171 two-year institutions and 56 four-year institutions responded to the #RealCollege survey.

College and University Basic Needs Insecurity: A National #RealCollege Survey Report – The #RealCollege survey is the nation’s largest annual assessment of basic needs security among college students. The survey, created by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice (Hope Center), specifically evaluates access to affordable food and housing. This report describes the results of the #RealCollege survey administered in the fall of 2018 at 123 two- and four-year institutions across the United States.

In April 2018, Wisconsin HOPE Lab published “Still Hungry and Homeless in College“, which summarizes the findings of a national survey that included 66 colleges and universities, including 31 community colleges and 35 4-year colleges and universities from 20 states and Washington, D.C. The survey found that 12% of community college students and 9% of university students experienced homelessness over the last year.

In March 2017, Wisconsin HOPE Lab released the results of a national study on hunger and homelessness among community college students. The study, Hungry and Homeless in College: Results of a Study of Basic Needs Insecurity in Higher Education, found that one-third of community college students are hungry and 14 percent are homeless.

Young Invincibles

In November 2019, Young Invincibles published a report on young adults experiencing homelessness in New York City and their ability to enter and complete a postsecondary education. The report examines barriers and provides recommendations to increase college access and success.

California State University  

Published in August 2019, CSU’s Study of Student Service Access and Basic Needs is Phase 3 of the most comprehensive mixed-methods study of university students’ unmet basic needs and the relationship to student success ever completed within a 4-year higher education system.

Published in February 2018, CSU’s Study of Student Basic Needs is Phase 2 of the most comprehensive mixed-methods study of university students’ unmet basic needs and the relationship to student success ever completed within a 4-year higher education system.

California Homeless Youth Project 

Student Resilience in the Face of Challenges at California’s Community CollegesThis report examines the intersecting challenges community college students experiencing housing insecurity face as well as the needs and resilience strategies of these students. Building on a growing body of research on basic needs issues in higher education, the CHYP interviewed 20 students between 18 and 30 years old who experienced housing challenges while attending a community college.

Emergency Housing, Food, and Financial Resources for Undergraduates at California’s public Colleges and Universities– This report compiles a list of basic needs resources across accessible for undergraduate students at 50 California Community College, 23 California State University, and 9 University of California campuses.

Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness: Perspectives from California’s Community College – This report details key findings and recommendations based on a survey of College Homeless Liaisons at California’s community colleges. It is a collaborative effort of CHYP and the ACLU Foundations of California.

Resources Supporting Homeless Students at California’s Public Universities and Colleges – This research examines the supply of campus resources including mental health, child care, student programs, housing, food assistance, and transportation at 50 CCCs, 9 UCs, and 23 CSUs campuses. The report concludes with recommendations for improving higher education access for students experiencing homelessness and increasing capacity for data collection.

John Burton Advocates for Youth

Equity in the Time of Need, Best Practices and Recommendations for California’s College Basic Needs Centers – This report highlights best practices and recommendations for California Community Colleges to develop basic needs centers to support many students, including those experiencing homelessness.

The Overlooked Obstacle Part 1: How Satisfactory Academic Progress Policies Impede Student Success and Equity – This report explores the impact of SAP standards and policies on financial aid with specific attention to students of color, experience in foster care, and homelessness.

The Overlooked Obstacle Part 2: Following the publication of The Overlooked Obstacle Part 1, JBAY launched a year-long Community of Practice to better understand the variance and disparate impact of SAP policies on students from low-income and minoritized populations. The report also includes key federal-and state-level policy recommendations to remove unnecessary barriers that prevent minoritized students, like students experiencing homelessness, from remaining eligible for most state and federal financial aid and earning a postsecondary credential.

Journal of Student Financial Aid

Higher Education Liaisons for Students Experiencing Homelessness: Role Preparation and Professional Development Needs – This research brief shares survey results from 49 homeless higher education liaisons from four states and provides a deeper understanding of the knowledge and experiences of liaisons and their professional development preferences and needs.

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