• Trends

Hungry and Homeless in College - Participate in the Survey

George Covino

In March of 2017, Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of higher education policy & sociology at Temple University, and her colleagues at the Wisconsin HOPE Lab published their findings from a fall 2016 survey of 33,000 students at 70 community colleges in 24 states. This groundbreaking study found that two in three community college students were food insecure and about half of community college students were housing insecure, with 13 to 14 percent reporting they were homeless.

Surprisingly, the survey showed that there appears to be little geographic variation in hunger and homelessness among community college students. Basic needs insecurity was not restricted to community colleges in urban areas or to those with high proportions of Pell Grant recipients. The study further found that some community college students, such as former foster youth and students with children, are disproportionately likely to experience food and housing insecurity.

The study further reported that about 32 percent of students experiencing food or housing insecurity were both working and receiving financial aid. Of course, homeless students experience especially difficult challenges in that they work long hours at low-wage, low-quality jobs and get less sleep than housing-secure students. Even more concerning is the fact that despite facing high odds of non-completion, almost one-third of these students were using loans to finance college.

Results from the survey are shaping a national conversation about students’ basic needs and the challenges we face in improving the likelihood for student success. Already, institutions are using the data to support fundraising efforts and rethink programming, and they are attempting to address the needs through state and federal policy.

How you can get involved
I was excited to learn that this year, the Wisconsin HOPE Lab is inviting ALL institutions to participate in the online student survey in the fall of 2017, regardless of sector. Participating colleges must agree to administer the survey in the first 4 -6 weeks of fall semester by sending at least three prescribed email invitations with survey links to all enrolled students. Students must be encouraged to join the survey in order to obtain useful results; therefore, participating institutions must provide $1,000 in incentives to students. When I discussed the survey at the California Community College Financial Aid Administrators Association conference in Monterey last week, one administrator suggested that he may be able to work with his food service provider to get 100 ten-dollar meal cards to use as incentives. 

The deadline to join this year’s survey is Thursday, June 1, 2017. In order to participate, simply email Anthony Hernandez at the Wisconsin HOPE lab at [email protected] with the subject line “FALL SURVEY.” For more information, you can find the invitation here.

Given the opportunity to identify basic needs insecurity and the impact on student success, I highly encourage you to identify the right people at your institution who can make the decision to participate. I also encourage you to share the Hungry and Homeless In College report with your colleagues and start the discussion on how we can help our students dealing with hunger and homelessness overcome these obstacles and be successful in pursuing their academic goals.

By the way, if you are on Twitter, consider following Dr. Goldrick-Rab. Hardly a day goes by that I am not challenged or inspired by one of her tweets! Please share any thoughts and comments you have for me via email, Twitter or LinkedIn.

George CovinoGeorge Covino is Student Connections’ vice president of student success.