Rental prices in major metro areas nearly doubled over the past decade, and rent in these areas has bounced back and surpassed previous levels since COVID. At the same time, a shortage of affordable rental housing and rising eviction rates, which disproportionately affect households of color and families with children, are creating a nationwide housing crisis.
Higher education is a microcosm of these national trends. A survey by the Hope Center of almost 200,000 college students found that about half experienced housing insecurity, and one in seven had either experienced homelessness or lacked stable housing.
“The cost of education has also gone up,” says Sanket Karuri, Head of Product at Edquity. “Increased education costs intersect with scarcity. The system is not designed for its consumer, and market fundamentals are worst in urban centers.”
Higher education institutions are addressing these challenges in myriad ways.
In urban areas, where housing is more expensive, and rental housing is harder to find, public universities continue to face funding shortfalls. While they might have been able to offer certain types of relief to students ten years ago, in many cases, that funding no longer exists.
To earn a college degree, 70% of students have to work, and at times, they have to take time off from school to focus on earning money.
“During school, we expect these students to be great students through almost impossible circumstances,” Karuri says. “Students are responsible for degree completion, even if their safety net is diminishing.”
The situation has only gotten more challenging in the midst of a global pandemic.
“During the pandemic, also, student parents have faced challenges with online courses with kids at home and job losses,” says Karuri. “Government benefits only go so far, and the folks who were already struggling got walloped.”
Taking a holistic approach that helps meet students’ housing, food, child care, and transportation needs is essential to addressing the crisis.
Public universities and community colleges are making a concerted effort to find novel ways to support students.
“Colleges and universities in urban areas are doing more than ever, with less than ever,” says Kurari. “Basic needs coordinators are getting wildly creative with grant programs, partnerships, and integrations.”
The Urban Institute recommends that schools connect students with affordable on-campus housing, partner with local organizations, and identify student pathways to emergency funds. Waleek Boone, an HEO Student Life Specialist at Medgar Evers College, part of the CUNY system, recommends colleges make it as simple as possible for students to access assistance and resources.
Following these and other recommendations, many schools are taking concrete steps to pilot new housing assistance programs for students. The Community College of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Housing Authority are providing permanent housing for 16 housing-insecure students, prioritizing students from the foster care system, this fall. Imperial Valley College in California is providing 26 tiny homes for housing-insecure students, with the help of state funding. The Cleveland Scholar House in Ohio will house single parents who attend Cuyahoga Community College or Cleveland State University. And the ARCS program in Portland, Oregon, reduces housing costs for students.
Housing shortages and high rents are likely to persist in our urban centers. As such, urban institutions will need to become increasingly creative in addressing housing insecurity among their students. Collaborating with local housing authorities, expanding on-campus options and providing financial subsidies are a few of the approaches demonstrating promise. Institutions, like the ones mentioned above, will have much to teach us as their initiatives progress and as their students graduate, hopefully in increasing numbers.