California College Students Continue to Struggle With Food, Housing Insecurity: Survey

More than two-thirds of students surveyed by the California Student Aid Commission identified as food insecure, and more than half as housing insecure.
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Margaret Attridge is a news reporter for BestColleges focusing on higher education news stories in California. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in May 2022 with a BA in journalism and government and politics....
Published on November 28, 2023
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  • A survey by the California Student Aid Commission has found that there has been an increase in food and housing insecurity among California college students.
  • More than two-thirds of students surveyed identified as food insecure and more than half as housing insecure.
  • Students with a low income, students of color, and adult learners reported higher rates of basic needs insecurity.

College students in California are facing higher rates of food and housing insecurity than in previous years, according to a survey conducted by the California Student Aid Commission.

The commission's 2023 Food and Housing Survey found that both food and housing insecurity have increased, with more than two-thirds of surveyed students identifying as food insecure and more than half as housing insecure.

The survey was sent in May 2023 to 500,000 students who completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or California Dream Act Application for the 2022-2023 academic year. Over 28,800 students responded to the survey.

Of those polled, 53% of students identified as housing insecure, while 66% were food insecure. This is a sharp increase from a survey conducted during the 2018-2019 academic year, which found that 36% of students who applied for financial aid were housing insecure and 39% had either low or very low food security.

Food insecurity was found to be a more pervasive problem across the state, with students from a variety of institutions reporting low access to food. Housing insecurity was reported highest among students attending a California Community College or private for-profit institution.

Students of color, students in lower income brackets, and older students were most likely to report basic needs insecurity. Students with children also were more likely to face food and housing insecurity.

"Basic needs among students represent an often-unseen crisis that demands our attention," Marlene Garcia, executive director of the commission, said in a press release. "California must unite to address this issue urgently and prioritize solutions rooted in equity, ensuring that every student, irrespective of their background, can navigate the process and access aid to reach their higher education aspirations."

Students who were surveyed reported several means of covering their basic needs including financial aid, scholarships, assistance from relatives, and credit cards.

Additionally, food- and housing-insecure students were found to be more likely to use public benefits programs, such as California's CalFresh food program, also known as the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

CalFresh expanded eligibility for college students during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the program ended two temporary student exemptions that increased CalFresh's availability to college students in June 2023.

The survey cautioned that the "broke college student" narrative should not be normalized and urged policymakers and school leaders to ensure that financial aid covers the total cost of attending college so that students can cover basic needs along with tuition and academic costs.

"As students struggle with rising food and housing costs many must understandably

prioritize their basic living needs, which comes at the expense of their education," the survey findings read.

"And yet, as the need continues to rise … the survey addressed a key question: Is college worth it? Despite barriers to food and affordable housing, the resounding answer from students surveyed is 'yes.'"