A recent survey by the Hope Center of more than 195,000 two-year and four-year college students found that about half experienced housing insecurity and about one in seven reported they either experienced homelessness or lacked a stable living situation.

Pervasive historical and structural racism cause stark disparities among these students: the 2019 survey found rates of homelessness were higher for Black students (20 percent) and Indigenous students (31 percent) than for white students (17 percent). LGBTQ+ students also experience high rates of homelessness. And COVID-19, which has disproportionately affected people of color, exacerbates students’ risk for homelessness.

Students experiencing homelessness are at greater academic risk than their peers. Many maintain demanding work schedules to pay for school and living expenses, limiting time available for studies. Losing access to dormitories and dining halls during school breaks also adds the stress of finding other places to stay. Stress can lead to decreased sleep and increased strain on physical and mental health, which can further impede academic achievement.

Federal policymakers can take several steps to increase benefits for students experiencing homelessness, begin to deconstruct the barriers they face, and advance racial equity by alleviating housing, food, and financial insecurity that have hit communities of color the hardest.

  1. Prioritize emergency aid grants for students. Emergency aid grants help students get through crises that may otherwise cause them to drop out. In March 2020, the federal government allocated $6 billion to student aid.
  2. Expand eligibility for and size of SNAP. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 temporarily makes it easier for students enrolled at least half time to access SNAP. But SNAP only provides about $1.39 per person per meal, on average, which is inadequate for adolescents and young adults with higher consumption levels.
  3. Strengthen fair housing protections. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development can take several steps to address the discrimination, segregation, and exclusion caused by a history of discriminatory housing policies, including affirmatively furthering fair housing and enforcing the disparate impact standard.

Read the full article about college students by Matthew Gerken and Abigail Williams at Urban Institute.