On March 15, 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.

Of students experiencing homelessness:

  • Roughly three-quarters were independent for financial aid purposes.
  • The vast majority (almost 70 percent) did not have a parent with a college degree of any kind.
  • 27 percent were under 21 years of age.
  • Ten percent were former foster youth.
  • Almost all also experienced food insecurity, with 67 percent indicating the very lowest levels of food security. Yet less than half received any type of food-related public assistance, and just 18 percent got any support from housing-related public assistance.
  • Almost one-third used student loans (compared to 19 percent of housing secure students ) and 16 percent used credit cards (compared to 12 percent of housing secure students) to finance their educations.
  • 50 percent were working (compared to 58 percent of housing-secure students), while 54 percent reported looking for work in the last 30 days (compared to 30 percent of housing-secure students). When they did work, students experiencing homelessness endured jobs with less reliable work schedules that interfered with school more, and related less to their respective majors or careers, and they were half as likely as other students to earn at least $15 per hour.
  • Students experiencing homelessness spent more time commuting, less time sleeping, and more time caring for other adults.
  • Homeless students were more likely to experience living situations that were less conducive to school success and were less safe: 38 percent of homeless students said that they left home because they felt unsafe, compared to 15 percent of other housing insecure but not homeless students, and just three percent of housing-secure students.

The Wisconsin HOPE Lab study adds to our understanding of the many barriers to college access and retention faced by homeless and foster youth. 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 Youthprovides 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).

Congress is likely to consider the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in 2017. This one-page document draws from a May 2016 GAO study to make legislative recommendations for improving the college access and success of homeless and foster youth.

For more information on homelessness and higher education, please visit the SchoolHouse Connection higher education page.

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