Access to stable housing has been proven to be important in helping students succeed. However, many students experience homelessness. Students that experience homelessness often face additional hurdles like food insecurity that compound and make it more and more difficult for them to finish their degree. There is a student affordable housing crisis in the United States that mirrors the affordable housing in the wider population as a whole. This crisis has many macro causes, but we believe that institutions of higher learning and governments can bring change and help students have safe and affordable places to live while they learn. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research released a study called Barriers to Success: Housing Insecurity for U.S. College Students that explores the issue in depth.
Housing Insecurity Data Collection
As time goes on, the cost of attending college continues to rise and rise. A huge contributor to this cost is living costs. For example, the average published cost for an in-state student at a public, four-year college is $18,943 for 2014–15. Room and board, at an average of $9,804, which accounts for more than half that cost.
As more and more people attend college, many students struggle to find adequate and affordable housing options near their campus, and at least 56,000 college students are homeless according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In order to make lasting changes in addressing homelessness and affordable housing, more data may need to be collected. By getting your campus or state to regularly collect data, progress can be tracked and administrators may be more willing to enact change in housing policies. General national research does exist, but much more research needs to be done to address the issue.
Sleeping in Cars
Some students must resort to living in their cars due to current inaccessible housing conditions in higher education. This issue is visible enough that the State of California has considered legislation to allow homeless students to use shower facilities and parking lots to sleep in their cars.
Seventeen percent of community college students experienced homelessness in the last year, according to a 2019 survey of close to 167,000 college students by The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice in Philadelphia.
While this issue is visible and has been covered by major news outlets like the New York Times, very little has been done by universities to address these issues many students face.
To address this issue, Universities should be tracking what students are experiencing homelessness and be offering affordable or free alternatives like discounted empty bed programs. They can also allow students that are experiencing homelessness to use shower facilities and parking lots to sleep in their cars while working to get them longer-term support.
Restrict Rent and University Housing Increases
One of the contributing factors to the overall student homelessness issue is the lack of low cost or even affordable housing. In fact, housing prices for college students have never been higher. Room and board costs have outpaced inflation, and according to the College Board, the cost of housing at public universities has nearly doubled since the 1980s.
A huge contributor to this issue is the practice of bringing in private businesses and developers to take on the task of student housing instead of the institution. These increases in housing cost outpace inflation. The charges have increased across all sectors of higher education, doubling from 1980 to 2014 at public and private four-year colleges and increasing by over 40 percent in public two-year colleges (in inflation-adjusted dollars).
Universities should not allow students to struggle to keep up with the above-inflation increases in housing costs every year. Allowing businesses to come in and take advantage of students with little option is predatory and unethical. Universities and legislatures must install restrictions on rent and university housing increases to ensure all students have access to affordable housing on and off-campus.
Open Housing Over Breaks
When students live in on-campus facilities, they are subject to housing schedules by the University. This means they must leave their dorm and belongings during breaks like Winter break and Spring break, even though they pay for those services. This kind of housing policy can be homeless students and students with a difficult home life at risk and in vulnerable positions. Students often pay more to live on-campus than off-campus, so on-campus residence halls should provide students with leases that do not remove them from their home for weeks at a time during school breaks. Universities must adopt more inclusive housing schedules that accommodate students who need to stay on campus during the school year.