Many Community-College Students Struggle to Afford Food or Shelter, Study Finds

Community-college students, many of them adults, often face the challenge of balancing coursework with jobs and families. But some students face a more basic, urgent struggle: feeding themselves and finding a place to stay at night.

One in five community-college students went hungry in the last month because they couldn’t afford enough food, according to a new study, and one in 10 either were forced out of a home or have stayed overnight in a shelter or an abandoned building.

The study, which was led by Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of educational-policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and was released on Friday, is the latest research to highlight the twin problems of student hunger and homelessness, which have grown as colleges welcome more nontraditional and first-generation students to their campuses.

It is also among the largest studies to date, drawing on a survey of 4,312 students at seven community colleges across the country.

Black, Asian, and Latino students were all more likely to have some level of “food insecurity” — a term covering a range of money-related nutritional compromises — than were white students, but black students tended to have it worst. Black students also were significantly more likely than any other group to be taking classes while struggling to afford a place to live. Nearly one in five black students in the survey had been homeless at some point in the previous month.

The Wisconsin study echoes previous research in suggesting that only a small percentage of community-college students who struggle with food and housing receive public benefits.

The researchers proposed several ways colleges could try to support students, beginning with making them more aware of the existing resources and assistance programs available to help them. They also recommended some changes in federal and state policies. All of those ideas are in their report on the study, which you can read here.

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