Conventionally, education has meant access to better personal and professional experiences. Through education students get knowledge and skills which, if used well, should make a difference in longer run. According to mainstream conceptualization of what makes a college student, she is one who is enrolled in a higher education institution, commutes to college and back home or simply lives on-campus. Interestingly, living on-campus – as part of a student's college life – could be literal. That is, given recent growing phenomenon an increasing number of students are homeless, students who do not live on campus (as in dorms, nearby housing or specific arrangements of housing options) per se but ones who, for personal and/or family reasons, have no shelter or roof to stay under when classes are finished. The plight and daily hardships homeless college students endure are surfacing onto colleges' and universities' attention. However, no systematic approach seems to address a growing phenomenon as unique as homeless college students. This presentation aims, hence, to highlight homeless college students as an increasingly growing phenomenon on U.S. campuses.
Stories of homeless abound. Although no specific details or statistics capture how college students come to be homeless or how daily lives are managed, surfacing stories are starting to identify personal – as well as societal – narratives of, until recently, an unheard of phenomenon.
Aesha is a 20-year-old college student who, escaping her abusive boyfriend had to find herself – and her baby son – a shelter (Bader). Aesha stays in NYC's emergency assistance unit (EAU) as a housing alternative until she completes her associate degree later. According to her, Aesha has to endure daily hardships of commuting back and forth between her college, shelter and her girlfriend's home (in which her baby son stays until she finishes classes). This is not to mention, of course, her full-time college schedule. Predictably, Aesha had to be absent periodically and her performance has been affected as a consequence.
Adriana Broadway (Bader) is another example of a homeless college student who – having applied for LeTendre Education Fund for Homeless Children, a scholarship program administered by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth – has to accept any accommodation in different places for lack of housing options or support.
The rising phenomenon of homeless college students is one which is noted for different statistical and support characteristic. Notably, lack of specific data about homeless college students make creating support programs an infeasible endeavor. As matters stand, college are starting to be aware of homeless college students but have not still been able to enact measures or offer adequate assistance – financial and otherwise – given how little is known about homeless students. Further, given rather inflated housing prices in housing markets, homeless college students have limited choices and colleges are becoming a viable recourse for assistance. Although very few colleges have set up support and assistance facilities – such as UCLA, having an Economic Crisis Response Team, which helps student stay enrolled and offer assistance by providing meal vouchers, scholarship information and emergency financial aid assistance (Gross) – most colleges, as noted, have no similar, systematic programs for help.
Probably, one disillusioning example of homeless college students is of Tina Giarla (Gross). Her father died in 2007 and her mother consistently in and out of jail, Giarla had to live on campus at Salem State until she ran out of resources. Balancing work and student life – not to mention caring for her grandfather – Giarla currently lives at her grandfather's until graduation.
As noted, only meager data exists on numbers and life patterns of homeless college students. However, according to National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY), 58,000 homeless students exist on campuses nationwide (Gross). Two reasons answer why numbers of homeless college students are increasing. One reason is recent economic downturn which has shed many jobs, resulted in business closures and channeling federal funds into different platforms and hence made assistance to colleges – let alone homeless students – a priority further down federal list. The second reason is one connected to how colleges process students' applications for financial aid. As matters stand, homeless students fail to provide sufficient information about parents or a guardian to receive aid. Fortunately, however, a recent Higher Education Act makes possible to students able to apply for federal aid without parental information or a signature (Gross).
Bader, J. Eleanor. "Homeless on Campus." The Progressive. The Progressive Inc., n.d. Web. 26 Jun. 2015.
Gross, Lexy. "College campuses see rise in homeless students." USA Today. Gannett Company, 21 Oct. 2013. Web. 26 Jun. 2015.