Many students face food, housing insecurities

SparkPoint Director Adolfo Leiva in the food pantry at Cañada College in California.

About a third of community college students in California face a huge obstacle to academic success because they experience housing insecurity, according to a new report by the Community College Equity Assessment Lab (CCEAL) at San Diego State University.

Twelve percent of California college students deal with food insecurity, it added.

“Our report shows that our college campuses are food and housing deserts,” said J. Luke Wood, co-director of CCEAL and co-author of the report. While many students face these concerns, “nearly half of black collegiate men face homelessness or other housing instabilities and nearly a quarter deal with hunger.”

In response to these challenges, many colleges have set up food pantries and clothing closets and are connecting students with community resources, Wood said. But a lack of understanding about this problem has inhibited more efforts to provide assistance, he said.

Students feel stressed

According to the report, students in developmental education – particularly in math – are significantly more likely to face food and housing insecurities. Students in developmental math account for 74 percent of students facing housing insecurity and 71 percent of those dealing with food insecurity.

“These students face added challenges and have goals of transferring or earning a degree that may seem even more distant for them than for other students,” said Nexi Delgado, CCEAL researcher and report co-author.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Nearly a quarter of students who were exposed to housing insecurity also faced food insecurity.
  • Students with food and housing insecurities tended to be older than their peers who didn’t face these challenges.
  • Students with housing insecurity were more likely to have goals of updating their job skills or starting a new job. Students with food insecurity were more likely to have the goal of achieving a certification.
  • Students with food insecurity are less likely to be on track to achieve their goals and more likely to indicate their intention to drop out of college than peers without food insecurity.
  • Students with food or housing insecurities are generally more engaged with faculty but are significantly less likely to feel confident in their academic abilities, to be focused on school or to feel a sense of belonging.

Colleges provide resources

The report highlights three California community colleges that are making efforts to address students’ needs for food and housing.

The student government association at San Diego Mesa College started an outreach program to collect food and hygiene supplies and hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for homeless students. It also has a food pantry and clothing closet, and its Student Success and Equity Department assists needy students with school supplies, café gift cards, printing cards and books.

Napa Valley College operates emergency food services and refers students to SparkPoint, a nonprofit organization that provides housing and food for those in need and helps them obtain food stamps and health coverage.

Cañada College also has a food pantry in partnership with SparkPoint and the Second Harvest Food Bank and offers specialized housing, food and financial resources and services based on where students are in their college journey.

There are several things community colleges can do to address food and housing insecurities, the report said, including raising awareness of the problem, reducing costs, developing an organized strategy, implementing interventions and re-envisioning financial aid.

About the Author

Daily Staff
CCDaily is published by the American Association of Community Colleges.