Homeless College Students: An Invisible, But Pervasive Issue
Being a college student while getting your head around managing money is tough enough. But what if you’re a college student without a roof over your head?
How are you able to get your head around money matters? The somber truth is that homelessness in college is prevalent – and on the rise. According to the FAFSA, there are approximately 58,000 homeless college students in the U.S. A recent survey by the Hope Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison indicates that just about half of community college students suffer from food or housing insecurity.
We talked with Toni Airaksinen, a student at Barnard College and an advocate for homeless college students. She shared some insights on the challenges faced by college students with food and housing insecurity.
Homeless College Students and Financial Insecurity
1. Many Homeless Students Lack Basic Financial Literacy.
“Homeless college students often come from foster care youth, lower income youth, and youth with parents who have been involved in the prison system,” Ariaksinen explains. Because they got bounced around a lot growing up, they’re far less likely to have guardians who teach them financial basics, such as how interest rates and credit work or how to check their credit scores.
2. They May Be More Likely to Use Payday Loans.
“Because homeless college students often lack reliable transportation, it is more difficult to access a preferred bank,” Ariaksinen points out.
As a result, they are more likely to fall prey to loan sharks and payday loans.
3. They’re More Likely to Suffer from Failing Grades.
Not having enough food to eat or a place to sleep at night makes it difficult to stay on top of coursework. A recent report released by Students Against Hunger points out that of students who suffer from food insecurity, 64 percent reported also dealing with housing insecurity. On top of that, 55 percent reported that because of these problems, they didn’t buy a required textbook. In addition, 53 percent missed a class due to hunger, and 25 percent reported dropping a class because of it.
Poverty has a major impact on their education. These failing grades mean that the students need to retake classes, take longer to graduate, and have less chance of getting into a graduate or professional program.
So are there any possible solutions to help homeless youth in college with their financial literacy? Well…
How to Aid Homeless College Students
1. Spread Financial Literacy Programs at Youth Centers.
If more homeless youth centers implemented financial literacy programs and allocated more resources, incoming college students could be better prepared to deal with the stresses and challenges of college life.
2. Connect Financial Aid Offices With Resources for Homeless College Students.
Ariaksinen suggests that financial aid offices on campuses should have someone on staff who can advise homeless students on the resources that may be available to them. This could include local food pantries, shelters, and food stamp benefits.
So How Can You Help?
You can get in touch with a food pantry on a nearby campus to donate some goods or money. You can even volunteer your time.
Start looking for volunteer opportunities through the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA), which boasts 400 members, or through colleges and universities that have food banks on their campuses.
If you’re feeling particularly gung-ho and have the background for it, opt to teach a basic financial literacy workshop on a college campus or at a youth shelter. These workshops are invaluable to college students. You can also get in touch with a group like the National Center for Homeless Education to possibly link efforts.
Homelessness among college students certainly isn’t going anywhere soon. But there are ways we can help improve students’ financial literacy as they deal with their daily struggles.