With the rising cost of tuition, and the overall unbalance between minimum wage and the cost of living, more and more college students are facing homelessness as they work toward their secondary education degree. According to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the number of homelessness in college students has risen 75 percent in the past three years, with 56,000 students claiming homelessness in 2013. FAFSA estimates that the number is actually 58,000, but students either choose not to report it, or are not applying for financial aid—an issue that comes up with lack of appropriate documentation or ineligibility because of other practicalities.
This growing problem is flying under the radar—many times because students who are homeless begin to live a double-life: one where they keep the reality of their situation behind the scenes to avoid judgment and stigmas from their peers and college community. They manage to go by unnoticed: they go to class, go to the library, do most things other students do. At the end of the day, however, they head over to a shelter, a motel, or even their car. Some students also sleep at the campus library, pretending to have fallen asleep while studying.
Minimum wage does not cut it anymore. With expenses like tuition, cost of books, materials and meals, working twenty to forty hours a week simply does not allow for living expenses on top of all of the costs that come with attending college. Additionally, most universities explain that out-of-class work should take up three hours per credit per week. We will save the math for another day, but this basically means that attending college equals a full-time job. Working forty hours a week on top of this academic responsibility is nearly impossible. Tack on extracurricular activities, internships and career development and this results in students swamped with demands and no time to accomplish it all—let alone be capable of supporting themselves financially.
Schools are beginning to set up systems like food pantries, where students that cannot afford meals at school, and do not qualify for food stamps, can pick up food. Others, like UCLA, have set up an Economic Crisis Response Team, which helps with emergency financial aid, scholarship information and food vouchers. Some schools are becoming more aware and are setting up programs to assist but awareness or publicity is not clear, so the majority of students never know about these options.
Homelessness as students is harmful in all aspects of life—from academic success to health stability to social development. Simply put, homeless students face many more obstacles when striving for a successful, well-rounded college experience. Their time is constrained by the immense pressure of poverty, something that is systemically created and perpetuated.
This problem does not always start in college. Many homeless college students come from impoverished households, parents who have no job and other financial obstacles. The National Center for Homeless education reported that about 317,000 public high school students were homeless during the 2012-2013 school year. To read more on high school homelessness and the barriers this presents, take a look at this U.S. News article.
Do you want help eliminate this issue? Talk to your campus centers: if a pantry exists, help promote it and set up food drives. If it does not, help your university set one up. Help spread the word about support networks such as the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, and speak up and educate others about the impact of high tuition, low minimum wage and more positively, the power behind creating and supporting organizations that are ready to help end homelessness on college campuses.
To read personal stories straight from students who are homeless, head over to this Huffington Post article, and this interview in USA Today. College students should have equal access to opportunities. By recognizing and alleviating student homelessness, we can get closer to reaching this goal.