[Marxism] Hungry, Homeless and in College

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 5 07:59:27 MST 2015

NY Times Op-Ed, Dec. 4 2015
Hungry, Homeless and in College

THREE months after starting college, Brooke Evans found herself without 
a place to live. She was 19.

She slept in libraries, bathrooms and her car. She sold plasma and 
skipped meals. It was hard to focus or participate in class, and when 
her grades fell, her financial aid did, too. Eventually, she left 
college and began sleeping on the street, in debt, without a degree.

As researchers who study why students don’t finish college, we happen to 
have first met people like Ms. Evans in universities and community 
colleges in Wisconsin. But just how common was it across the country for 
college students to struggle to come up with enough money for food or 

We asked the Association of Community College Trustees and the national 
nonprofit Single Stop to help us find out. Our organization, the 
Wisconsin HOPE Lab, along with the Healthy Minds Study, fielded a survey 
at 10 community colleges in New York, New Jersey, California, 
Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Participants included 
more than 4,300 students who look broadly similar to the national 
community college population.

One in five of those students said that, in the last 30 days, she had 
gone hungry because of a lack of money. Thirteen percent had experienced 
a form of homelessness in the last year, having been thrown out or 
evicted, lived in shelters or abandoned buildings, or gone without a 
place to sleep at all. Far more — just over half — were at risk of each 
of those conditions. A majority had financial aid and jobs, but it 
wasn’t enough.

Such high rates of food and housing insecurity among hard-working 
college students indicate that the nation faces a serious crisis. Much 
of the conversation in Washington concerning college costs — whether 
it’s about simplifying the financial aid application or refinancing 
student loans — seems almost trivial in comparison with the problems 
these students face.

“Without a home and without meals, I felt like an impostor,” Ms. Evans 
told us. “I was shamefully worrying about food, and shamefully staring 
at the clock to make it out of class in time to get in line for the 
local shelter when I should have been giving my undivided attention to 
the lecturer.” When this is what college is like, is it any wonder that 
students drop out?

More than 10.5 million students attend community colleges. Nearly all of 
these institutions welcome anyone who seeks to take their courses, 
fulfilling their mission of providing opportunities regardless of family 
background. But community college is not free. In order to enroll and 
focus on learning, students have to pay for books and supplies, 
transportation, health care and clothes, lodging and food, in addition 
to tuition and fees. After grants and scholarships are applied to reduce 
those costs, students like Ms. Evans, who are more likely to qualify for 
maximum support because their parents earn less than $30,000 a year, 
still face an average out-of-pocket price of more than $8,000. Even with 
student loans, they fall short.

By 2020, about two-thirds of all jobs will require education and 
training beyond high school. If current trends hold, the United States 
will face a shortfall of five million college-educated workers that 
year. This problem won’t be solved if we don’t ensure that students have 
their basic needs met so that they can manage their schoolwork and 
finish their degrees.

The College and University Food Bank Alliance helps institutions set up 
and maintain food pantries, and Scholarship America’s Dreamkeepers 
program, along with some college foundations, supports efforts to 
provide emergency financial aid and counseling. Ms. Evans is back in 
college now, benefiting from these types of assistance. Single Stop 
helps community college students use all of the possible social benefits 
programs to which they are entitled. It also counsels them on how to 
manage their finances. Programs like these need to be quickly scaled up 
to alleviate the crisis.

But we will have to do much more to ensure that this problem doesn’t get 
worse. This will require changing both our social and educational 
policies, while also reducing college costs. To give one example, the 
National School Lunch Program supports schoolchildren but not college 
students. Subsidized housing and transportation are often available when 
a student is in high school but not once he enters college. Even if the 
students are technically adults, this is shortsighted thinking.

 From President Obama on down, our political leaders are urging people 
to do the right thing and stay in college. Students are trying — so hard 
that they sometimes go hungry to learn. When will we match their level 
of determination? A college education is a great tool for overcoming 
poverty, but students have to be able to escape the conditions of 
poverty long enough to finish their degrees or we’re wasting their time.

Sara Goldrick-Rab is the founding director of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. 
Katharine M. Broton is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the 
University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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