Student Life

The Forgotten College Student

Elizabeth Hoyt

December 18, 2013

The Forgotten College Student
Yes, many college students, like you, are technically homeless.
This year, when you’re nestled all snug in your bed, with visions of sugar-plums dance in your head, take a moment to think about the forgotten college student. Not sure who we’re talking about? Then keep reading. We've all encountered the homeless, whether it’s through volunteering, in passing on the street or in the news. To many, it seems like a distant culture – the “other.”
To be clear, that does not mean it is right, it's merely an observation of today’s society. But, what many do not know is that many of these “others,” are college students. Yes, many college students, like you, are technically homeless. According to Barbara Duffield, policy director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, college homelessness is an issue that is all too often overlooked.
This shouldn’t be that surprising, especially since the number of students within America’s public schools has hit a record high – 1.2 million, to be exact (according to the National Center for Homeless Education). While there is no exact data on the number of homeless college students nationwide (since many do not admit to or open up about being homeless), 58,158 college applicants indicated they were homeless on federal financial aid forms for the 2012-2013 academic year. That number was an eight percent increase from the previous year.
Duffield believes that number is quite understated since many students do not consider themselves homeless since they are living out of a car, motel or would rather not admit to their situation. “There are a lot of kids…who really hide [that they are homeless] are try to stay under the radar – they’re just embarrassed…so there are definitely kids that go unseen,” said Duffield. During the school year, these students reside in campus facilities, however, when campuses close, they have no place to call home. The holiday season, for example, is tough for students because campuses close and students aren't able to remain in on-campus housing – sometimes, not even for a fee. Students working minimum wage jobs (which is all they can do since they do not yet have their degrees) struggle to pay the fees to the schools that do allow them to stay for a fee, usually starting at $12 per night, which may not seem like much, but adds up quickly. And that's just the starting price - it can easily be priced double or triple that amount per night. Though options are unavailable to these students international students and student athletes are able to stay on-campus while class is not in session for free. Homeless college students attempt to find shelter through volunteering for free school-sponsored service trips or, if they cannot find shelter, sleep outdoors. The catch-22 of the situation is that the solution to getting the students out of the homelessness is a degree, which they are already working towards. Most of the students already have minimum wage paying jobs and student loans, which is how they are paying for school in the first place. “There’s an assumption that if you’re homeless, you’re so focused on basic needs like food and shelter that school isn’t a concern,” said Duffield. Duffield continued, “But for these youth, education is the answer – the jobs that are available don’t pay good wages if you don’t have a degree, so [education] is the only way out of their situation.” The reason they are homeless when school is out of session is simply because they do not have families to return to and were not fortunate enough to be invited back to a friend’s home or, if they were, receive or be able to afford to receive the time off of work. Some schools work privately with homeless students to help them find shelters, housing or allow the students to stay on campus for free, usually on an individualized, case-by-case basis. In such situations, however, the student must come forward as being homeless and, for many, pride and embarrassment are too difficult to overcome. Recent legislation introduced by Senator Patty Murray of Washington aims to amend the Higher Education Act, requiring colleges “develop a plan to assist homeless and foster youth to access housing resources during and between academic terms.” According to Senator Murray, the bill “reduces some of the incredible barriers that homeless and foster care youth face to make better life through higher education.” Additionally, the proposed legislative bill would require that colleges provide a point of contact as a resource for homeless students and also mandate that the institutions inquire about homelessness on college applications in order to help homeless students gain better access to financial aid resources.

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