Hope Center reports on students’ basic needs insecurity during pandemic

More than one in four students in the Philadelphia area experienced food insecurity and more than 40 percent experienced housing insecurity in 2020, according to the report.

Temple's Hope Center for College, Community and Justice released a report on students' basic needs during the pandemic on March 31. | JEREMY ELVAS / FILE

Nearly three in five college students nationwide lacked access to food or housing during the Fall 2020 semester, according to a report by Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice released on March 31.

“#RealCollege 2021: Basic Needs Insecurity During the Ongoing Pandemic” analyzed findings from the Hope Center’s sixth annual #RealCollege Survey, the largest annual assessment of basic needs insecurity among college students. The Hope Center, housed in the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, defines basic needs insecurity as lacking access to resources for food, housing, health care, technology, transportation, personal hygiene and childcare.

To administer the survey, 130 two-year and 72 four-year institutions nationwide emailed students a link to the survey between September and November 2020. Of the 1.84 million students who received the link, more than 195,000 voluntarily chose to complete the survey, according to the report. A limited number of $100 incentives were offered to randomly selected survey participants at each college, and an additional 133 parenting students nationwide were selected to receive $150 incentives.

Of the nearly 9,000 students in the Philadelphia area who answered the survey from September through November 2020, 28 percent indicated experiencing food insecurity in the 30 days prior to completing the survey. Forty-two percent of Philadelphia-area students experienced housing insecurity in the 12 months prior, and 12 percent experienced homelessness during that same period. 

The Hope Center defines experiencing food insecurity as scoring “low” or “very low” on the United States Department of Agriculture’s Household Food Security Survey Module, which is a survey to measure food security in American households through questions like if the respondent skipped meals or felt concerned they would run out of food in the past 12 months. 

To assess housing insecurity among students, the Hope Center also created an eight-question test based on the national Survey of Income and Program Participation Adult Well-Being Module. Students had to answer at least one question affirmatively or have moved at least three times in the 12 months prior to completing the survey to qualify as experiencing housing insecurity.  

Nationwide, 29 percent of students at four-year institutions reported experiencing food insecurity in the 30 days prior to completing the survey. Students’ most common food-related concern was running out of food before being able to buy more. 

Forty-three percent of students at four-year institutions reported experiencing housing insecurity last fall, according to the report. The most common housing-related challenge students reported was paying their rent, mortgage or utility bills.

Additionally, 14 percent of students at four-year institutions reported experiencing homelessness in the 12 months prior to completing the survey, according to the report.

To assess homelessness, the Hope Center created a two-question test in accordance with the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which defines homelessness as lacking a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. Students had to answer affirmatively to the first question or a part of the second question to qualify as having experienced homelessness in the past 12 months.

Basic needs insecurity poses a significant risk to students’ well-being and academic success, according to the report. For example, students who experience food or housing insecurity are more likely to have lower GPAs, poorer health and higher rates of depression and anxiety, according to the report. 

Indigenous, Black, American Indian and Alaska Native students at two- and four-year institutions were 16 to 21 percent more likely to experience basic needs insecurities than white students. Nearly two-thirds of students who identified as LGBTQ reported experiencing basic needs insecurities, according to the report.

Since its onset, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated basic needs insecurity among college students, according to the report. More than one-third of students who were employed prior to the pandemic reported losing their jobs since its onset. Students of color were more likely to experience job losses than white students, according to the report.

The pandemic also affected students’ concentration, with 80 percent of students at four-year institutions reporting having trouble concentrating on school in Fall 2020, according to the report.

The report recommended the federal government invest in expanding emergency aid for students and provide full federal funding for childcare programs to help make attending college more accessible for parents. 

he federal government has provided $77 billion in financial relief for higher education from the beginning of the pandemic to March 2021, according to the report. Temple students have felt the effect of this through federal stimulus checks for students and emergency financial aid provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, The Temple News reported.

The Hope Center also advised universities and colleges to create and expand emergency aid programs and increase students’ awareness of their basic needs resources.

Temple’s CARE Team provides assistance to students experiencing basic needs insecurity, like through referring them to other university resources, like Tuttleman Counseling Services and the Wellness Resource Center, who can address their specific concerns, according to its website.

To expand on its findings from the 2021 #RealCollege Survey, the Hope Center plans to release four region-specific reports, focusing on Philadelphia, Texas, Virginia and Los Angeles, California, and several supplementary analyses throughout the summer and fall. These analyses will cover topics like emergency aid, historically Black colleges and universities, mental health, racial disparities, student-athletes and transportation.

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