Report Offers Perspective on Pandemic’s Early Impact on Students, Highlighting Economic Insecurity and Anxiety

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Mental and economic strains are mounting significantly for college students in the wake of the novel coronavirus, according to a new survey with nearly 60% of students reporting that they have experienced basic needs insecurity.  

The report released on June 15 by The Hope Center, an action research center focused on restructuring higher education to create opportunities for all students to complete college degrees, found a number of concerning trends that have arisen in the early days of the pandemic.

The survey, conducted between April 20 and May 15, received a 6.7% response rate and accounts for the views of more than 38,000 students attending 54 colleges and universities — of which 39 were two-year and 15 were four-year schools — in 26 states.

“With the emergence of COVID-19, the lives of students throughout higher education were substantially disrupted, practically overnight,” the report said. “Many students lost access to food and housing provided on campus, along with key support services, including on-campus food pantries and case managers who assist with public benefits access. Emergency aid funds were rapidly deployed by philanthropists and colleges, but just as rapidly depleted.”

More than one-third of students overall — 33% of four-year college students and 44% of two-year college students — said they lost their job due to the pandemic with. On top of those job loss numbers, an additional 32% of four-year college students and 28% of two-year college students have seen their work hours reduced.

The financial strain has also created challenges in housing, with 15% of four-year students and 11% of two-year students experiencing homelessness as a result of the pandemic.

The report also found that the coronavirus created a significant gap in basic needs security when broken down by ethnicity. While 52% of white students experienced basic needs insecurity, those challenges affected 71% of Black students and 65% of Hispanic or Latinx students.

Additionally the survey reported that in the wake of COVID-19 half of respondents at two-year institutions and 63% of respondents at four-year institutions could not concentrate on school. 

The report concluded with a list of policy recommendations aiming to increase targeted financial support for students in order to combat these insecurities imposed by the ongoing pandemic.

“Basic needs insecurity among college students was already widespread before the pandemic, and this report indicates that the rates are likely worse now,” the report said. “Moreover, there are stark racial/ethnic disparities that, if not remedied, will further drive inequities in college attainment.”


Publication Date: 6/16/2020

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