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Effects of food and housing insecurities on community college students illuminated by CCEAL report

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A new study by the Community College Equity Assessment Lab (CCEAL) at San Diego State University found that approximately one-third of community college students experience the threat of homelessness and housing instability, and twelve percent face the threat of hunger.

Food insecurity is defined in the study by Sara Goldrick-Rab, Katharine Broton and Daniel Eisenberg as the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the ability to acquire such foods in socially acceptable ways. Housing insecurity also exists along a spectrum where homelessness—lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence—represents the extreme case. Unaffordable housing, poor housing quality, crowding, and frequent moves are other dimensions of housing insecurity.

Students with food insecurities are more likely to indicate their intention to drop out of college than those without food insecurity. Students with food or housing insecurities are significantly less likely to feel confident in their academic abilities, to perceive college as being worthwhile, to feel a sense of control in academic matters, to be focused in school, and to be authentically interested in class.

Students with food insecurity are significantly less likely to perceive a sense of belonging from faculty, to feel welcome to engage inside and outside of the classroom, to report having access to student services, and to see campus services as being effective in helping them address their needs.

The report also offers some strategies to help aid students with insecurities, such as raising awareness and reducing stigma associated with asking for help. Other suggestions include reducing school costs like tuition and textbooks, and providing open source resources. CCEAL also recommends directly providing aid to the students, and addressing student needs with a comprehensive strategy to team up with local organizations and help solve the issue at a community level.

The report also encourages the re-envisioning of financial aid, through allowing emergency aid that can be quickly dispersed to students in need and helping students with special circumstances. CCEAL also argues that colleges should engage students in on-going, mandatory financial literacy training to help them budget, complete FAFSA, and how to save money.

The data is derived from over 3,000 California community college students employing the Stressful Live Events Scale.

Dr. Luke Wood, associate professor of Community College Leadership, said in the press release for the report, “The findings are just common sense, if you are more concerned about where your next meal is or where you can lay your head at night than classroom success, it will impact your grades.”

Wood said this was the collegiate experience for a significant portion of college students, much more than was anticipated.

“When faced with the real threat of hunger or homelessness their focus is survival before success,” Wood said.

According to CCEAL’s press release, the food and housing report helps create awareness of the challenges that many college students face during the holiday season and throughout the academic year. The report, Struggling to survive: Striving to succeed: Food and housing insecurities in the community college, is among the first research efforts to show who is adversely exposed to food and housing insecurities in California.

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