Society

Homelessness, Hunger Rates Rising Among Students

| by Kit Bryer

As the cost of attending college increases, so do rates of homelessness and hunger among students across the nation.  

Researchers with the University of Wisconsin conducted a survey of more than 4,000 undergraduate students. The results revealed that half of the students were facing struggles with food and housing insecurity; 20 percent of those students were hungry, and 13 percent were homeless.

UW researchers noted that most students who left school without a degree cited financial reasons as a leading factor.

In Massachusetts, 21 of the state's 25 public community colleges host food assistance programs in an effort to battle the increasingly visible rise in student hunger.

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"When I first got here, I was always told that we should never miss a chance to give students food," Bunker Hill Community College professor Wick Sloan told NPR. "I foolishly thought at the time they meant Doritos and cookies. It's protein that they're after. It's crazy."

Sloan has been working at the Boston college for more than a decade. He said he feels like he is both a teacher and a social worker. 

Consequences of the students' struggle against hunger and homelessness can reach beyond the risks of not graduating; not having a degree can mean being passed over for jobs, which can lead to a continuous cycle of homelessness and hunger for a growing number of young people. 

John Snedden, a disabled student at Colorado State University, struggled with homelessness during college until those struggles forced him to drop out, The Rocky Mountain Collegian reported. On Dec. 20, Snedden passed away. 

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Only weeks before his death, on Sep. 25, Snedden was quoted by Medium in a piece about homelessness in Fort Collins:

I was published in an academic journal at CSU and I can't afford housing as a disabled student. I was a student at CSU and I was fighting homelessness as a student. I was going to finish school, but I can't do it without housing. I'm on a fixed income, and even if you do work then you can’t afford housing. This is a real issue. I'm disabled and I can't even find a place. There is no affordable housing.

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the cost of tuition at a public four-year college has more than doubled over the last 30 years, even after adjusting for inflation. In 1984, the actual average yearly cost of attending a public four-year college was $3,682.  After adjusting for inflation, the average yearly cost was $8,238. During the 2015/16 school year, the average was $18,632.

Student advocates and the UW researchers agree that there is a deep need to expand food and housing programs for college students across the country while broadening federal funding for tuition and fees. Without these programs, they argue, students are less likely to succeed in life.

Sources: University of Wisconsin Survey, NPR, The Rocky Mountain Collegian, Medium, National Center for Education Statistics / Photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt of Pink Sherbert Photography via Wikimedia Commons

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