Some Community-College Students Struggle to Meet Basic Needs, Report Says

Even before the pandemic hit, food and housing insecurity was an issue for college students, and since 2020, some institutions have stepped up efforts to provide for students’ basic needs.

A new report, released on Wednesday, provides an in-depth look at how food and housing struggles played out among an often-vulnerable population in higher education — community-college students — during some of the toughest months of the pandemic.

According to data in the report, “Mission Critical: The Role of Community Colleges in Meeting Students’ Basic Needs,” nearly a third of the students were food-insecure and about one in seven were housing-insecure.

The data in the report, produced by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin, are based on a spring 2021 survey of more than 82,000 students at 194 institutions, although not all students answered every question.

Those who were more likely to report that they had run out of food in the prior month, which is one measure of food insecurity, were underrepresented-minority students. Almost half of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students, 43 percent of Black students, and 41 percent of American Indian or Alaska Native students said that was the case for them.

Of the 62 percent of respondents with rent or mortgage payments due, roughly one in four said they hadn’t been able to make those payments in full at some point during the past 12 months. The share of students who couldn’t fully cover their utility bills was about the same.

“What’s clear from our report is that some community-college students are in a perilous position that may affect their ability to stay enrolled in college and complete their goals,” said Linda García, the center’s executive director, in a news release.

Community colleges’ enrollment plummeted more than that of any other sector during the pandemic. Two-year colleges looking for a rebound in attendance — and to retain their current enrollment — will need to do more to support students who are hungry or lack permanent housing, the report says. Less than half of students who needed help with food and one in five of those needing help with housing over the last year reported receiving assistance from their college.

Here’s more data on how community-college students are navigating food and housing issues:

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