College Student Housing and Food Insecurity: What Faculty Can Do

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AccessibilityDEIBOnline LearningStudent Success
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Jody Small is an Emmy Award-winning writer-producer who films stories about students and educators at community colleges and universities around the country


Several years ago, The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University in Philadelphia created an annual survey known as the #RealCollege Survey to check in on “basic needs security” among college students.

Recently, the center has been researching the pandemic’s impact on college students who were able to continue their education during these difficult times. In the fall of 2020, the center surveyed nearly 200,000 students at community colleges and four-year schools about their food and housing needs. The questions assessed students’ basic needs security and well-being in terms of mental health, academics and job status.

The research showed that nearly 3 in 5 students experienced basic needs insecurity. Student food insecurity affected 39% of those enrolled at two-year schools and 29% at four-year schools. The results also showed that 48% of students were affected by housing insecurity and 14% by homelessness. Among students facing basic needs insecurity, access to support was limited. Thirty-four percent applied for emergency aid and 32% received it, but 52% did not apply for supports because they did not know how.

Forty-one percent of students had a close friend or family member who was sick with Covid-19. Thirteen percent of students lost a loved one to the virus, with Latinx students more than twice as likely as White students to lose a loved one, according to the survey. In the area of mental health, 35% of students exhibited at least moderate anxiety.

The Hope Center says, “The impact of the pandemic will reverberate for years. Providing students the supports they need—including for their basic needs—is the best way to ensure they can complete degrees.”


So, what can instructors do to help?

The Hope Center suggests instructors share information about support for students’ basic needs on their course syllabus. It’s inexpensive, efficient and will raise awareness among students and faculty. They advise instructors to establish a culture of care in their classroom by giving students an opportunity to share information about their lives with a welcome survey. This is a powerful way to begin building a culture of care between the instructor and the student. They can also increase the visibility of existing programs, which are often underutilized due to a lack of student awareness. Creating a culture of care will remove the stigmas associated with using public benefits and other social services.


What are the results for students?

Students will get the support they need to better focus on learning and eventual graduation. They will connect with people who can help them navigate complex systems to get assistance and develop a sense of reassurance and belonging to the institution while decreasing their stress and anxiety. Students will strengthen their safety net and feel empowered to advocate for themselves and gain self-confidence.

Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor, sociologist and author, is the Founding Director of the Hope Center. She says, “Supporting students means focusing on their humanity.”  While basic needs security is a key factor in determining students’ completion rates, Dr. Goldrick-Rab says there is more to humanity than food and shelter. She says relationships, especially those developed in college, can meaningfully influence a student’s success. She also reports, it is particularly true for student-faculty relationships.

In a new study, “My Professor Cares: Experimental Evidence on the Role of Faculty Engagement,” there is evidence that even a minimal increase in faculty engagement can influence a student’s future, especially minority students just starting college. Researchers suggest that instructors reach out to their students at least three times during the semester. First, a welcome email providing useful information that will help every student succeed in the course, a second email halfway through the semester providing feedback on individual performance and finally an email just before the final providing best practices on how to study for the exam. The empathy and guidance that students receive from trusted sources at their school will set them on a trajectory for success.


Looking for additional ways to support your students? Check out this post from faculty member, Sandy Keeter: