Report: Housing, Food Insecurities on Rise for Community College Students - Higher Education
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Report: Housing, Food Insecurities on Rise for Community College Students

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by Jamal Eric Watson

Food and housing insecurities continue to be a major issue for community college students across the nation, particularly African-American and Southeast Asian students.

Dr. J. Luke Wood

Dr. J. Luke Wood

Those are the findings of a new report released by the Community College Assessment Lab at San Diego State University. In addition to physical health concerns, mental health concerns are also higher among students who experience housing insecurity and successively higher levels of food insecurity.

According to the report authors, Nexi R. Delgado and Drs. J. Luke Wood and Frank Harris III, depression, severe anxiety, eating disorders and suicidal ideation is linked to these insecurities.

The report, Struggling to survive — striving to succeed: Food and housing insecurities in the community college, is based on 2016 data collected from 90 community colleges and nearly 25,000 students.

Wood, an associate professor and director of the doctoral program in Community College Leadership at San Diego State University, says that the number of community college students who are hungry and homeless is steadily rising.

“It is more extreme than many think,” says Wood, who is also co-director of the Community College Equity Assessment Lab. “The findings are just common sense. If you are more concerned about where your next meal is or where you will lay your head at night than classroom success, it will impact your grades. That’s the collegiate experience for a significant portion of college students, much more than we anticipated.”

The issue, he says, directly impacts students of color, who comprise about 83 percent of those enrolled in community colleges in California and about 65 percent nationwide.

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And unlike four-year institutions that tend to offer students the opportunity to live in residence halls and choose meal plans, the plight of community college students — who tend to be commuters and holding down full- and part-time jobs — often tend to go unnoticed.

“Our report shows that our college campuses are food and housing deserts,” says Wood. “And while many students face these concerns, we find that nearly half of Black collegiate men face homelessness or other housing instabilities and nearly a quarter deal with hunger.”

Wood says that there is more that community colleges can be doing to help meet the growing needs of their students who face these insecurities.

“There has to be an understanding that this is actually an issue,” say Wood. “The challenge is that the problem is a lot bigger than what the community college can do alone.”

He suggests that institutions partner with community-based organizations to set up a variety of social services for students, including a food pantry, free and reduced lunch programs, and housing resources near campus.

In addition, Wood says that colleges can be proactive in helping to reduce tuition costs, offering book vouchers and utilizing open education resources so that textbooks are free or cheap so that “students can spend their money in other areas.”

You can read the entire report here.

Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson.

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