Completing a degree can be the least of a person’s worries when they don’t know where their next meal will come from or where they will sleep at night.
A new survey of more than 80,000 community college students found that a third of respondents said they already struggled to get enough food to eat in the past month. The same survey found that about a quarter of students who had to pay rent had struggled at least once in the past year to cover their housing costs.
Students who are focused on meeting their basic needs usually cannot focus their full attention on their coursework, which could lead them to drop out at a time when community college enrollment has already fallen sharply. And people who have student loans but no degree struggle to find meaningful employment and pay their debts.
These findings come from the Center for Community College Student Engagement, a research institute at the University of Texas at Austin. Executive Director Linda García said students are sharing their answers anonymously and the results should be a “conversation starter for community colleges to dig deeper to look at their students.”
“We risk losing the opportunity to educate them,” Garcia said. “But those who need it the most stand to lose the most.”
Not just food or housing issues:Limited public transportation may prevent some students from graduating.
The group administered the survey in the spring of 2021, and it includes responses from about 82,000 students from nearly 200 community or technical colleges across the country. It also comes at a time when community college enrollment has fallen sharply amid the pandemic. These institutions had about 5 million students in spring 2020, but have since lost about 827,000 students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.
Community college students are likely to encounter different challenges than traditional 18-22 year old students. On average, these students are 27 years old, and more than a third are between the ages of 22 and 39, according to data from the American Association of Community Colleges. These types of colleges are also generally open-access: they accept almost any student who applies.
About 30% of students who responded to the survey said they had struggled to find enough food to eat for the past 30 days, according to the report. This insecurity can feel like skipping meals or reducing portion sizes. Black and Hispanic students reported being hungry at higher rates than their white peers.
Its numbers roughly match the findings of the Hope Center for College Community and Justice, a research center focused on basic student needs based at Temple University in Pennsylvania. This group found that nearly 40% of community college students in 2020 had food security concerns.
After:COVID-19 is pushing students to drop out, which could devastate the economy and their lives
How have students spent emergency stimulus money? Food, books and rent
Debi Gaitan, acting president of Northwest Vista College in Texas, said some of her students were already stretching their limited resources.
“Sometimes it’s about deciding if I’m going to be able to pay the rent or if I’m going to be able to afford the books,” she said. “Will I be able to pay school fees or will I be able to pay for food?” These are not luxuries they give up.
Some might question the role of colleges in ensuring students can eat, Gaitan said, but helping students now meet their current needs helps them meet their long-term needs. After all, getting a degree often comes with higher earning power later on.
The survey also revealed that about 14% of students faced housing insecurity, according to the group. This definition can include students who are not able to pay their full rent, but also those who have stayed in a homeless shelter, motel, or outside because they did not have a home. another place to go. Students with children reported higher rates of food and housing insecurity compared to their peers who did not have dependents.
Other surveys also indicate that students are struggling to get basic necessities during the pandemic. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, a professional organization of college financial aid professionals, has released an analysis of how students spent emergency stimulus money based on surveys of approximately 18,000 people between March and April 2022. The group also partnered with NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, another higher education professional group, and HCM Strategists, a company of advice.
Opinion:My students are struggling to pay for their education. Canceling student loans does not solve the system.
On average, their analysis found, students received between $1,000 and $2,000 in emergency aid, although just over 60% reported receiving financial aid. The majority of students used their stimulus funding for food, books and housing costs, and about four in ten students spent the money on transportation.
About a third of students directed emergency funding toward “future tuition, technology devices, internet services or utilities.” Around 90% of those who received help said the support helped them “live less stress and focus better on their studies”.
Are pantries enough to help hungry students?
One of the unexpected challenges in getting help for students is making them aware of its existence. The survey focusing on how students spent stimulus funds found that around half of those who did not receive aid were unaware that emergency aid was available.
A separate article by The Trellis Company, a student loan manager who also conducts research, found that 91 of 104 colleges participating in a 2021 survey of student financial well-being had a pantry or closet on the campus. Of the approximately 50,000 students on these campuses, only about 40% of students were aware that their institutions provided food, and 9% of respondents incorrectly stated that their campuses had no such resource.
At Northwest Vista College, support staff work with students one-on-one to ensure they have access to the services they need, said Lisa Black, who oversees the Student Advocacy and Resource Center. They have, for example, called the landlord of a student in case of late rent. Graduate students from universities also come to Northwest Vista College to help its undergraduate students access college support services.
“We really try to not just give the student a list of numbers,” Black said. “Because when you drown, it doesn’t look much like a life raft.”
The college also has a pantry, but Black said community colleges couldn’t think that would be enough to help struggling students.
Garcia, of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, said that means colleges will have to get creative with informing their students about available services. This can mean assigning a college counselor to educate students about a college pantry or asking instructors to include this information in their course materials.
“It’s about making the information compelling,” Garcia said.
Contact Chris Quintana at (202) 308-9021 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CQuintanadc.