Post-secondary education is increasingly necessary to obtain a job that pays enough to afford housing. As such, it is a critical strategy to help children and youth escape homelessness, and prevent future homelessness. Three new studies shed light on the challenges faced by many students in their efforts to obtain a college education, as well as the economic imperative of educational attainment beyond high school.

1. CSU’s Study of Student Basic Needs

The California State University (CSU) published its Study of Student Basic Needs, the most comprehensive mixed-methods study of university students’ unmet basic needs and the relationship of such unmet needs to student success ever completed within a four-year higher education system. The study found that 41.6% of CSU students reported food insecurity; 20% experienced low food security; and 21.6% experienced very low food security. It also found that 10.9% of CSU students reported experiencing homelessness one or more times in the last 12 months. Students who were former foster youth had notably higher rates of homelessness. Students who identified as Black/African-American and first-generation to attend college experienced the highest rates of food insecurity (65.9%) and homelessness (18%).

The CSU study also highlights the obstacles students must surmount in order to earn a higher education degree. Students described how experiencing food insecurity and homelessness influenced most facets of life, including academic struggles, long work hours, and negative impacts on mental and physical health. Students who reported food insecurity, homelessness, or both also experienced physical and mental health consequences that were associated with lower academic achievement.

All 23 CSU campuses have taken a number of actions to address students’ basic needs, particularly food and housing. CSU Actions to Support Students Facing Food and Housing Insecurity highlights these specific actions. In addition, CSU held its second Basic Needs Initiative Conference, which brought together CSU students, faculty, staff, administrators, partners, and national experts to share best practices. Conference presentations and materials are available online.

One of the authors of the CSU Study, Dr. Rashida Crutchfield, also has co-authored a new book, Homelessness and Housing Insecurity in Higher Education: A Trauma-informed Approach to Research, Policy and Practice.

2. First-Generation Students: College Access, Persistence, and Postbachelor’s Outcomes

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) examined high school success, post-secondary enrollment, degree completion, graduate school enrollment, and employment outcomes of students whose parents had not attended college (“first generation” students).  The study found that first-generation students are less likely to have taken high-level courses in high school, less likely to enroll in college, and twice as likely to have left college without earning a credential than peers whose parents earned a bachelor’s degree. The study also highlights that a college education is a powerful equalizer: Despite the challenges first-generation students face in completing college, the study found that for those who did earn a bachelor’s degree, there was no statistical difference in full-time employment between them and their peers. It also found no difference in the salaries they made.

3. High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) Second Follow-Up: A First Look at Fall 2009 Ninth-Graders in 2016

Another new report by National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) tracked a nationally representative sample of 20,000 students from 2009, when they were in ninth grade, through February 2016. It found that 28 percent had no college education. Three-fifths of those individuals worried about having enough money for day-to-day expenses like food, clothing, housing and transportation. And, among those without college degrees who were employed, 39 percent had an income of $10,000 or less in 2015.

A low household income is significantly correlated with homelessness; research by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that young adults with annual household incomes below $24,000 had a 162% higher risk of homelessness.

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