A growing number of state governments are acknowledging the widespread food and housing insecurity on college campuses and taking steps to help, Inside Higher Ed reports. To date, basic needs insecurity has been addressed primarily at the campus level, but “in the last couple of years, there has been an uptick in the legislative drive to do this,” says Molly Sarubbi, a project manager at the Education Commission of the States.
A recent report from The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University reinforces how prevalent food and housing insecurity has become, finding that seven out of every 10 students at two-year colleges and six out of every 10 students at four-year institutions said that they faced some form of basic needs insecurity in the last year.
California measures takes aim at hunger, homelessness on campus
California legislators are currently considering three bills that seek to address basic needs insecurity. The bills “would offer the most wide-ranging potential support for homeless and housing-insecure community college students to date—if they pass—and could serve as a model for the federal government,” POLITICO reports.
The state Assembly has passed a bill that would require community colleges to provide parking lots where homeless students could safely sleep in their cars. Another measure would alter the state’s financial aid system to better cover the total cost of attending community college, factoring in housing, food, transportation, and books. Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal, meanwhile, would provide $15 million each to help the University of California and California State University (CSU) systems meet students’ basic needs.
“The dollars that are being proposed right now would help us build out more partnerships with community organizations” and provide emergency housing for additional students, said Denise Bevly, director of student wellness and basic needs initiatives in the CSU chancellor’s office.
“We tell our California youth that in order for them to succeed they need to get a college education. It is outrageous that in striving to attain that very degree many of our students are forced into homelessness,” state Sen. Richard Roth, told POLITICO in an email.
State-level experiments seek to narrow basic needs gaps
Other governors and state legislatures are taking action, too. New Jersey’s governor, for example, signed a law that set up a $1 million fund for colleges to address student hunger, as well as a campus hunger survey, a task force, and a meal credit-sharing program where students can donate their unused dining hall points to classmates in need. “New Jersey leaders have long recognized that today’s college students are struggling not only to pay college tuition and fees but also experience other material hardships such as food and housing insecurity,” Zakiya Smith Ellis, New Jersey’s secretary of higher education, told Inside Higher Ed.
Washington state has come to a similar realization, and legislators have proposed a bill that would ask community colleges to track and report on homelessness and would experiment with providing financial aid to cover non-tuition costs. Massachusetts’s education officials, meanwhile, have launched an eight-college pilot program that houses homeless community college students in unused dorm rooms on the campuses of four-year institutions.