With over 95% of jobs created since 2010 going to college-educated workers, post-secondary education is a critical for improving life outcomes for youth experiencing homelessness, including reducing the risk of continued homelessness as adults.

A new 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. As indicated by the title of the report – a quote from a young adult who experienced homelessness in high school and in college – many young people are keenly aware of the role of higher education in improving their lives. Yet without financial aid, these young people cannot access post-secondary education.

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 data indicate that:

  1. The definition of “youth” continues to pose problems for 22- and 23-year olds.
  2. Many youth do not have homeless determinations from school district liaisons or homeless service providers and face significant barriers to financial aid.
  3. Many applicants who request homeless determinations from their post-secondary institutions do not receive a determination.
  4. School districts and high schools make the most homeless determinations; Financial Aid Administrators make the fewest; HUD and RHYA providers have made fewer each year over the past three years.

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.

The data demonstrate the on-going problems young people experiencing homelessness face in accessing financial aid, and therefore higher education. We conclude our analysis with recommendations for policy and practice, including the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

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