Nationwide Homelessness in College

By Julia Islam on January 22, 2019

Now This, an American media outlet, featured a junior from Humboldt State University named Nolan who has been living in his car. Nolan described his reasoning as a justification for not giving himself “a financial burden coming out of school.”

Nolan isn’t the only one with this reasoning; nationwide homelessness in college has become an alarming problem. Finding the cost of housing too taxing, many resort to other means of shelter in order to carry on with their education. This choice comes from a tiring and stressful process that can only continue the cycle of homelessness. The process of homelessness occurs through the three following steps.


Rising Tuition

Because students find difficulty paying tuition on low wages, they find the tuition in their universities too high. The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association released a fiscal report that the 2008 recession caused the tuition to rise from 35.8 percent to 46.5 percent in 2015. Even though tuition declined to 45.5%, it is still in the high range.

Low-income students might find paying tuition financially difficult. Between choosing the price of housing or tuition, many students will forgo housing. With one financial challenge gone, students will have a new worry: finding a place to sleep. So, with no stable housing, low-income students will find instability due to the combination of paying tuition and finding shelter. Now that we understand how rising tuition costs impacts students, we must look at how low wages make homelessness even more stressful.

Weak Job Market

Since homeless college students support themselves through their jobs but face more isolation, low wages are the main contributor to the financial difficulties of homelessness. Anne Vandermay and Nicholas Rapp from Fortune found that millennials make an average salary of $40,356 and thus make 20% less than Boomers. College students, nevertheless, accept their underpaid jobs as a stepping stone to something better.

This attitude, therefore, reflects the struggle to survive. By accumulating low wages, homeless college students have to save up to pay tuition but forgo buying food and other basic necessities. College students, therefore, have to experience hunger, too. They, as a result, might find more difficulties in studying and thus have a weaker academic performance. By understanding the stress of low wages as a homeless college student, we can then move on to understanding the stigma of being a homeless college student.

Stigma of Homelessness

When homeless college students face rising tuition and the difficulty paying for it, they often refuse to reveal their homeless status and thus face isolation from their peers in college.  FAFSA, for example, identifies 58,000 homeless students but Taylor SJ from Vice suspects that the figure is actually higher. She states that many homeless students keep their situation to themselves due to the stereotypes of homeless people as “lazy, strung-out, irresponsible, and incapable of leading normal lives.”

By silencing themselves, homeless colleges students will never interact with social services that might help them. By encompassing an individualist attitude, college students have to venture through the instability of homelessness alone. But, with no support, they only feel shame and thus are more likely to experience mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety. At this point, homeless college students might plunge into even more instability and become stuck in the cycle of homelessness.

Many universities, overall, need to recognize the problem of nationwide homelessness in college. As students attempt to pay the tuition with their low wages, they find the tuition too high and thus end up having to sacrifice housing to ease the difficulties in paying for tuition. But, when students attempt to pay their tuition all by themselves, they might become victims to hunger as well.

With the stress of experiencing high tuition and the attempts to pay it without housing, homeless college students experience more stress by keeping their situation to themselves and subsequently risking themselves to the cycle of homelessness. Understanding that homelessness can impact college students, too, we must realize that we need to spread awareness of this problem. We, for instance, can create PSAs that detail the experience of a homeless college student and more outreach to those who are homeless. Many homeless students may then open up and interact with social services. Only public awareness can alleviate nationwide homelessness in college.

Hi, what up, my name is Julia Islam, a poli sci major in John Jay and I write about political stuff.

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