Strategies for Colleges and Universities to Help Students with Housing Instability

Strategies for Colleges and Universities to Help Students with Housing Instability
Chase Sackett, Sara Goldrick-Rab, Katharine Broton
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Increasingly, college students must juggle not just coursework but life challenges ranging from child care to work to housing instability. With nearly 9 out of 10 undergraduate students living off campus, housing challenges can put students’ capacity to complete college in jeopardy. Addressing Housing Insecurity and Living Costs in Higher Education, a new guidebook coauthored by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, offers strategies for colleges and universities to support students struggling with housing insecurity and other costs of living. The guidebook summarizes the issue that each strategy seeks to address and provides implementation guidance and examples.

Key facts:

  • Undergraduate students are especially vulnerable to housing problems because they often lack a rental history or funds for a security deposit.
  • Over half of students living off campus (but not with family) have income below the federal poverty level.
  • In a survey of undergraduate students at seven campuses of the University of Wisconsin, nearly a third reported going hungry in the past year. More than 1 in 10 experienced housing insecurity.
  • The Wisconsin HOPE Lab conducted a study of more than 4,000 students at 10 community colleges and found that around half of students experienced food or housing insecurity.
  • One in five survey respondents reported going hungry in the past month, and 13 percent were homeless in the past year.
  • Those at greatest risk of food and housing insecurity are students of color, first-generation college students, and students from low-income families.
  • Students experiencing food and housing insecurity are more likely to report depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
  • Coping mechanisms include shifting to part-time enrollment, working long hours, borrowing to pay bills, and going without essential educational resources, such as books or a computer.

Selected strategies:

  • Help students manage housing costs by changing the timing of aid delivery or reducing required housing fees for high-need students.
  • Prioritize higher-need students for resources, including housing and work-study, and fill housing gaps during breaks and emergencies.
  • Partner with local agencies and organizations to connect students with appropriate benefits and supports.
  • Provide emergency aid or microgrants to help students weather short-term challenges.
  • Provide legal assistance or referrals to address housing issues, and offer emergency housing on or off campus.
  • Support students’ financial literacy and support students’ savings through individual development account programs.