The University of New Mexico discovered yesterday that across the state’s college and university system, 60% or more of its students suffered basic needs insecurity, such as food and housing. In January, 49% of students at 39 Washington higher education institutions experienced food or housing insecurity.
As troubling as these numbers are, they point to a trend that has slowly developed since the pandemic started. Specifically, Temple University’s 2020 #RealCollege Survey found that more than half of students on 200 two- and four-year campuses experienced basic needs insecurity.
“Behind these numbers is real human suffering. It exposes us to the fact that hunger in the US is real and even in our classrooms here in New Mexico,” said Sarita Cargas, principal investigator for New Mexico’s study. “This data should help dispel myths about the privileged college student.”
While one can try to dismiss these alarming numbers as pandemic-based complications, a more definitive reason is the rising cost of rent in the U.S. Prices jumped 6.3% from the summer of 2021 to 2022, the highest year-over-year increase in more than three decades, according to Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. It’s not shaping up to be any better for 2023. Rent in January from 2022 to 2023 rose 8.68%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With skyrocketing living expenses, students’ basic needs will be more challenging to meet.
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State solutions to meeting basic needs
The Kentucky Student Success Collaborative has formed an action network to study and audit the state’s 49 postsecondary education institutions. The collaborative comprises 47 members leading the state’s higher education institutions, government and education-focused nonprofits. The research will serve state policymakers’ decision-making when increasing students’ access to public benefits.
“This network aims to deepen our understanding of basic student needs for food security, housing security, and financial stability and to identify the resources that exist to support students,” said CPE President Aaron Thompson, according to the Northern Kentucky Tribune.
In 2021, 56% of Portland community college students faced housing insecurity, partially driven by the influx of home buyers moving to Portland and driving up prices, according to the Hope Center. In response, a group of Portland State University students created the “Affordable Rents for College Students” nonprofit to subsidize rent by 50% to 100%. Since April, the program has helped over 100 students and currently aids more than 50.
Students with consistent access to food and resources may have a higher success rate in school. Take Quinsigamond Community College in Massachusetts. Starting as just an 800-square-foot space, the college’s food bank is now backed by the county’s anti-hunger nonprofit, offering 2,000 pounds of food per week. Consequently, of the 346 students who accessed the food bank last year, 279 completed their degree or enrolled in fall semester classes, according to Telegram & Gazette.