How many homeless students are on US college campuses?

The problem is especially acute at NYU, where scores of students sleep in Bobst Library (and even contract faculty have had to bed down in their offices). That’s quite a scandal, in light of all the billions that NYU’s Board routinely spends on its ballooning real estate portfolio.

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Students With Nowhere to Stay: Homelessness on College Campuses

By Eleanor J. Bader, Truthout

When the College Cost Reduction and Access Act took effect in 2009, neither lawmakers nor school administrators had any idea how many college students would check the box on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — the document that determines eligibility for Pell grants, subsidized loans and work-study awards that help students pay for college or vocational training — to indicate that they were homeless.

At last tabulation, the number was 58,000, a small percentage of the 20.2 million students presently enrolled in both undergraduate and graduate study. Nonetheless, school counselors and advocates believe the number is starkly inaccurate and represents a mere fraction of university students who actually lack a permanent home.

Shirley Fan-Chan, director of U-ACCESS at the University of Massachusetts Boston, provides on-campus support to students who are experiencing food insecurity and homelessness. “Most students think of homelessness as being on the street, sleeping in doorways, and for the most part, college students don’t do this,” she told Truthout. “They hide out. They may stay in one place for a few days or a week, then move somewhere else, bouncing from friend to friend with no fixed place to stay. But they think to themselves, ‘Well, this is college. As long as I have a roof over my head, I’m okay.'”

And if that roof happens to be in a tent, subway car or vehicle, so be it. As Fan-Chan notes, students typically do their damnedest to make do, showering in the gym and visiting the emergency food pantries that are increasingly popping up on US campuses.

Causes of Student Homelessness

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been studying college affordability and its connection to retention since 2008. Her initial research involved analyzing the impact of the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars.

“My team went out to get the lay of the land from students, and asked them how it was going paying for college,” she said. “We expected to hear them tell us that they were having trouble affording their books or buying a laptop but what we heard about was food insecurity; one student told us that she was living in a shelter. This stunned us and we had to ask whether this was happening on a larger scale.”

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