Report: Improving Students’ Housing Security Could Lead to Better Success Rates

Quick Takeaways:

  • Housing insecurity is high among college students, especially low-income, first-generation, and foster youth;
  • Providing adequate, affordable housing and resources to these students can significantly improve their postsecondary success;
  • Policymakers need better national data to improve resources for students who face housing insecurity.

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff 

Housing insecurity continues to be a significant challenge among college students and may contribute to the ongoing gap in completion rates between low-income and higher-income students, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

According to HUD, students face greater risks for housing insecurity, especially low-income and first-generation students, and those coming from foster care. In 2013, more than 56,000 students who filed the FASFA indicated that they were homeless, though the total number is likely higher. 

And while previous research has shown better graduation rates among students who live on campus, many college students struggle to find quality and affordable housing options near their campus due to rising costs and housing construction that has not kept pace with enrollment.

Housing costs for college students have been on the rise over the last 25 years and now comprise a significant portion of their living expenses, even exceeding the cost of tuition and fees in many cases. 

For students who live on campus, for instance, the average cost of room and board at a public four-year institution is $9,804, about half of the total  $18,943 cost of attendance for an in-state student. Room-and-board costs at public two-year colleges, on average, make up more than two-thirds of the total cost. Colleges are allowed to determine living cost allowances for off-campus students based on what the school believes to be a “reasonable” expense. However, HUD reports that institutions “appear to systematically underestimate students’ living expenses, which may in turn affect students’ success.”

According to HUD, access to housing can also be affected by limitations on students’ ability to access their federal financial aid, such as the 10-day rule on Title IV disbursements and 30-day rule on disbursing Direct Loans for first-year, first-time borrowers. 

“Students are best served,” HUD says in the reports, “when they receive sufficient aid to access the resources necessary for success, including adequate housing near campus.”

And while there are a number of resources available to students, better national data and a “more robust” research base on students’ housing challenges are needed, HUD says calling for the following:

  • An evaluation of housing interventions linked to higher education, including strategies through Moving To Work, a program that provides flexibility for initiatives for interventions to be piloted and evaluated;
  • The inclusion of a module regarding postsecondary enrollment in the American Housing Survey; and 
  • Additional research on institutions’ approaches to housing insecurity among students and identified need.

HUD also recommends three policy priorities that would “better facilitate affordable, adequate housing options for postsecondary students:”

  • The creation of an interagency working group to investigate best practices and policy options;
  • A review of the guidance for determining institutional living cost allowances, with the goal of recommending a consistent method for institutions; and 
  • A review of the Section 8 eligibility rule regarding students, with the goal of excluding financial aid for education-related expenses as “income.”

While there is a larger debate underway about how far institutions and the federal government should go in subsidizing students’ living expenses, “the evidence to date suggests that improving students’ access to resources such as housing and food will improve their ability to succeed in school,” HUD concludes.  


Publication Date: 3/17/2015

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