A new study shows that tuition isn’t the only thing that community college students have on their minds these days. The report, which surveyed thousands of students nationwide, found that more than one in 10 experienced homelessness as a community college student, and over half had a hard time keeping food on the table at some point. Many students had a difficult time paying rent and utilities. Others described needing to change their living situation, such as by moving in with other people, in order to cut costs.
The authors of the study see their research as casting new light on the experiences of “hardworking” students who struggle to get by. They say that policy conversations about streamlining financial aid and loan processes are only scratching the surface of the challenges facing weary students.
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A recent piece by The New York Times profiles a woman who represents much of the study data; she found herself temporarily homeless in trying to keep up with her expenses during college, and ended up needing to drop out to pull her life back together. Unfortunately, students who drop out often have debt, and many continue to struggle under financial burdens without the benefit of a degree.
The study results are a challenge to those who might suggest those struggling in low-wage jobs should simply use the community college system to get a leg up to a better life. Putting one’s nose to the grindstone and sheer determination won’t be enough to conquer the financial realities of attending community colleges.
Even for those who understand that college costs can quickly add up, the conversation has stalled on tuition in the past. President Barack Obama tried this year, for example, to pass a bill for tuition-free community college. If such a policy change were to happen, it would undoubtedly provide much-needed support for America’s community college students. However, it will always be critical to keep in mind that the struggle of students isn’t just over tuition; it’s about housing, food, and general livelihood. With a holistic perspective, we might be able to make community college something that all students have the luxury to get through with more ease.
Stefani is a writer and urban planner based in Oakland, CA. She holds a master’s in City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley and a bachelor’s in Human Biology from Stanford University. In her free time, she is often found reading diverse literature, writing stories, or enjoying the outdoors. Follow her on Twitter:@stefanicox