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Community College Students Facing Housing, Food Insecurity

December 5, 2016 1:33 p.m.

Community College Students Facing Housing, Food Insecurity


Luke Wood, Ph.D., co-author of "Struggling to Survive, Striving to Succeed: Food and Housing Insecurities in the Community College"

Related Story: Community College Students Face Housing, Food Insecurity


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Lots of people can remember living on a shoestring during their college days, but a new report finds that a significant number of today's college students are routinely at risk of hunger and homelessness. San Diego State report looked at the food and housing insecurities faced by students and community colleges and how that impacts their ability to study. Joining me is Dr. Luke would codirector of the community college equity assessment lab at as the issue. The report is called struggling to survive, striving to succeed, food and housing insecurities in the community college. And look welcome to the program.

Thanks for having me.

The last time we spoke with you, you would come out with a report on the challenges they spied men of color in community colleges. Why have you expanded into the study?

In our prior work we were looking at men of color particularly black Latino, Southeast Asian students and trying to understand what were the factors that influence their success. As we delve further into the work we realize that mainly the same challenges that face the students they's other students as well. We felt there was a need to expand the work to account for that while also still be true to our mission and have a better understanding of the men of color experience.

Let's define terms before we start with the numbers. What constitutes food and housing insecurity for the sake of the study?

Housing insecurities can be a wide array of challenges we can range from a student who is homeless, to the student who is sleeping on a friend's couch so couch surfing or sleeping in a friend's closet or sleeping in the car or really just being concerned about where their next place they will later had. Food insecurity is a little more straightforward. Not knowing where your next meal will come from so it's really the threat of hunger.

How many community college students did you find that said they weren't able to afford adequate food or housing?

In our study we surveyed students in the California system, about 3600 students who were part of this particular study and we found that one third of them faced these housing challenges and about 12% of them face the food insecurities that we identified.

First duty -- your study found that half of black collegiate men face housing insecurity and nearly a quarter of them deal with hunger. What other particular groups of students are struggling in numbers with these issues?

I would say that given that a third of them experience housing challenges and 12% to challenges, it's across the board. Everyone is experiencing challenges and we need to do more. You're right, we found that black men experience is challenges at a higher rate. We also found similar challenges for black women as well as for Southeast Asian students both men and women. Southeast students, we found there are challenges that the students are experiencing that are at a higher rate than those -- those of others. Spec another statistic puts this in

Fuller context is, a lot of these community college students are actually older students. Who are going back to school to update their job skills.

In fact if you look at the national data, let's say we take black males for example. We know the average age in a community college is 28 to 29 years old. This is not the traditional college population that most individuals with think about when they think of college experience. These are people who are working and have families, who have other responsibilities that are vastly different from that of the traditional. One thing we say in the community college is the nontraditional student is the traditional student.

How much of these nontraditional students actually make up the population of community college's?

The overwhelming plan share.

You became interested in this line of research as accurate because of personal experience. Can you tell us about that?

When I was a student, I experienced food insecurities as a regular and very difficult challenge. For me, I didn't have a lot of support from my family to be able to go to college, I had the encouragement. We want you to be there and were glad you're there but in order to provide me with support be on that it wasn't there. For me, I would go days at a time without eating at all. Sometimes two, sometimes three days at a time and what I would do is scrounge up change off the ground or enough money to go get of the burrito from Taco Bell or some sort of thing all the dollar menu. Then have water to go with it. That's how I survived for a good contingent of my college experience. It wasn't just an experience that I had, it was something that I knew other individuals were experiencing as well. From that, it may be thing, we have to be doing more around this.

What kind of impact it is insecurities have on the students academically?

As you would suspect, not knowing where you going to sleep or where you were going to eat influences for academic success. In particular we found that especially with food insecurities, this is a real challenge. Those are students who will be less likely to be on track to achieve your goals. They are students who indicate they are more likely to be intent on dropping out of college. They were students who felt a lack of belonging on campus. Students who were using campus services but didn't feel like the services were benefiting them were helping them to erase the challenges they were facing. We found so many differences across these populations when we look at outcomes, or experiences, we recognize that when you experienced food and housing insecurities, you're facing real challenges that are going to influence your success.

Some local community colleges are actually trying to address the issue of students going hungry or having a place to live. What are they doing?

One college, and what we try to do is not just highlight the challenges but some things that colleges can be doing. San Diego Mesa College is doing work around this area. They have a number of different events that are focused on and resources focused on providing students with support. They have a food pantry and as part of the food pantry they even have a secondhand clothing that is available to students because is not just about performing -- providing housing, it's also about reducing other costs that they have so they can spend more money on those things. We are seeing other things. There's food pantries, colleges are partnering with community organizations that are engaged in feeding students that are engaged in helping students find safe and stable housing, so it's recognized that this challenge is far beyond what our community colleges can do. There are many things they can do. If they are going to attack a problem that nearly half of black men are facing, and in general one third of students facing housing insecurities, you have to be able to partner with community organizations because the capacity is to address and confront this challenge is too great.

Luke would codirector of the community college equity assessment lab at 10 eight. Thank you so much.