With a roof over his head, Anthony Miller’s grades rose from D’s to B’s. But many students aren’t so lucky. One told us, “We’re barely making it, barely able to pay rent. There are times where I can’t come to school because I don’t have bus fare. There are days where I can’t pay my phone bill because it all went to rent or food. As soon as that happens, I don’t have more money for school supplies, for bus fare — for anything.”

At Cerritos College, we listen to our students, and our work is informed by their experiences. Right now, they are very clear: Affordable on-campus housing is a top priority.

In 2019 — before the pandemic struck — a survey revealed that more than half of our nearly 21,000 students struggled to afford housing. That’s why we opened The Village, California’s first community college initiative for students experiencing homelessness. The initiative can only help 28 students, but student need has only grown, leading to our application for state support through the Higher Education Student Housing Grant Program.

If our application is approved, we will build an $80 million student housing project offering 400 affordable beds by 2026. The average price will be $717 per bed, including utilities, far below Los Angeles’ typical rent, which ranges up to $1,800 per month. Since many of our students have children, our housing will include studios, two-bedroom, and four-bedroom units. To ensure student success, on-site supports will include a food/hygiene pantry, tutoring, free laundry, and access to mental health care.

Like many other California community college districts that have applied for construction grants, our decision to undertake this work reflects a great deal of planning and thought. We’ve leveraged supports and tools developed by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office’s new Affordable Student Housing program, conducted a student housing market study, investigated more than 20 potential sites, commissioned schematic designs, created a workable budget and secured $12 million in matching funds from our board.

We are well-prepared and deeply committed to this effort because we know that for our students, being without a home is a deal breaker. Unlike universities that use housing to compete for students, we serve place-bound, low-income adults for whom we are the only option. Nearly all our students work, and many have families, but right now 44% of them face commutes of at least an hour to school. Housing is a strategic tool for helping them complete college, not a luxury.

Read the full article about community colleges by Jose Fierro at EdSource.