Community College Students Struggle With Housing, Food Insecurity

Students, particularly those from historically underrepresented groups, reported not being able to pay rent and utilities in full, according to a new report.
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  • A new report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) outlined low housing and food security among community college students.
  • A third of all respondents to a spring 2021 CCCSE survey reported running out of food without enough money to buy more.
  • Students who were Native or Pacific Islander, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino/a, or American Indian or Alaskan Native were disproportionately affected by food insecurity.
  • Roughly 16% of survey respondents said they needed food assistance from their college in the past 30 days — but less than half of these students said they received it.

Most community college students who need help with food and housing aren't getting it from their institution, according to a new report, highlighting needs that outpace resources available from colleges.

The report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) outlines a gulf between student needs and available resources.

Roughly 16% of students who responded to a nationwide survey in the spring of 2021 indicated they needed help with food from their college — and of these students, about 44% indicated they were getting help from their college.

"If you're falling, it catches you. … Without the pantry, I don't know what I'd do some days," one student who responded to the CCCSE survey said. "I'm just really grateful for it."

The pandemic exacerbated food insecurity among students, BestColleges previously reported.

Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 are among the most likely to be unemployed during the pandemic. And college students faced barriers to food pantries, job opportunities, and on-campus food services during college closures.

Far fewer students received help with housing insecurity, according to the report.

Among the 10% of students who said they needed help with housing, just 21% said they received that help from their community college. Sixteen percent of students said they needed help with utility bills, though only 22% of these students received help from their community college.

These needs were disproportionately present among historically underserved students, according to the report: More than a quarter of all community college students said they had low or very low food security, but that figure was much higher in certain groups.

About 43% of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students, 39% of Black or African American students, 37% of American Indian or Alaska Native students, and 34% of Hispanic or Latino/a students fell into the low or very low food security category.

"What's clear from our report is that some community college students are in a perilous position that may affect their ability to stay enrolled in college and complete their goals."

— CCCSE Executive Director Linda García said in a release

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Students who have dependent children were also disproportionately affected by food and housing insecurity.

One in four students with dependent children said they cut the size of their meals or skipped meals entirely within the past 30 days due to a lack of money for food. And while 10% of students without dependent children had low or very low housing security, nearly 25% of stu dents with dependent children fell into one of those categories.

The report also outlines some of the ways community colleges are addressing student needs.

Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, for instance, recently announced plans for a new apartment complex to house single students with minor children. Northeast Texas Community College provides a centralized care center including a food pantry, mini kitchen, and hygiene area. And it also provides wellness sessions and therapy for students.

Community colleges have adopted creative ways of addressing student needs throughout the pandemic and during the recent rise in inflation. Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis, for instance, moved to remote learning on Fridays in May in a bid to reduce transportation costs for students.

Community college leaders can take steps to address student needs insecurity, according to the report, like partnering with community organizations and designating a person or team to track what services the college offers to students.

The report also not es that college trustees can allocate funds toward student needs and raise awareness, and faculty members can include information about college resources in their syllabuses.