Report finds continued basic needs insecurity among local college students

A May 26 report from the Hope Center examined how the pandemic affected college students and higher-education institutions in the Philadelphia area.

Temple's Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, based in Ritter Annex, released a report on how the pandemic has affected college students in Philadelphia. | JEREMY ELVAS / FILE

About 48 percent of students at local four-year colleges and universities and 66 percent of students at local two-year institutions experienced at least one form of basic needs insecurity during the fall of 2020, according to a May 26 report from Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.

“Securing the Basic Needs of College Students in the Greater Philadelphia During a Pandemic: A #RealCollegePHL Report” analyzed data collected from three two-year institutions and 10 four-year institutions in the Philadelphia area, including Temple,  for the Hope Center’s sixth annual #RealCollege survey, the nation’s largest annual assessment of basic needs insecurity among college students. 

The Hope Center, housed in the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, defines students’ basic needs as having access to resources for nutritious food, housing, health care, technology, transportation, personal hygiene care and childcare. 

Participating institutions emailed students a link to the survey between September and November 2020 and approximately 11 percent of the 83,000 students completed the survey, according to the report.


Local four-year students reported experiences of basic needs insecurity 5 percent less than four-year students nationwide. However, the percentage of students at local two-year institutions who experienced basic needs insecurity was 5 percent higher than two-year students nationwide, according to the report. 

More than two in five local college students reported losing their part-time jobs during the pandemic, according to the report. 

Temple’s CARE Team, an organization dedicated to referring students to resources that will help them inside and outside of the classroom, saw an increase of basic needs insecurity amongst Temple students due to job loss, wrote Rachael Stark, senior associate dean of students and member of the university’s CARE Team, in an email to The Temple News. 

Nearly three in 10 Philadelphia-area college students also experienced food insecurity in the fall of 2020, according to the report.

To measure food security, the Hope Center used questions from the United States Department of Agriculture’s 18-item Household Food Security Survey Module. The survey measured four levels of food insecurity ranging from “very low” to “high.” Respondents who scored “very low” or “low” were considered food insecure, according to the report. 

When assessing factors like the ability to pay rent or utilities, they found that 55 percent of surveyed local two-year students, 37 percent of four-year students at public institutions and 42 percent of four-year students at private institutions locally experienced housing insecurity in the 12 months before the survey. Eighteen percent of students could not make full housing payments in the 12 months before they completed the survey.

Students at local two-year institutions were two to four times more likely than students at local four-year institutions to default on an account, experience a rent or mortgage increase that was difficult to afford or not be able to pay housing or utility bills, according to the report. 

Temple’s Student Emergency Aid Fund saw an increase in applications during April and May 2020 and more than $350,000 was awarded to students since the beginning of the pandemic, Stark wrote. 

“We assisted students that would otherwise not be able to afford their monthly bills and/or rent,” Stark wrote. 

A higher rate of local four-year students reported moving three or more times in the 12 months before the survey than local two-year students, possibly reflecting how students scrambled to find housing amid the closure and reopening of college campuses, according to the report.

Twelve percent of surveyed local college students experienced homelessness in the 12 months before completing the survey, according to guidelines from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act, which defines homelessness as lacking a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.


Local American Indian, Alaska Native, Black and Indigenous students were between 19 and 21 percent more likely to experience basic needs insecurity than white students, according to the report. 

Local first-generation college students were 10 percent more likely than non-first-generation students to experience basic needs insecurity. Pell Grant recipients’ basic needs insecurity was 18 percent higher than non-Pell Grant recipients, according to the report. 

Students who identify as LGBTQ experienced basic needs insecurity 8 percent more than students who do not, according to the report. 

Parenting students were 19 percent more likely to experience basic needs insecurity than non-parenting students, according to the report.

Students who graduated from a Philadelphia high school were 8 and 12 percent more likely to experience food and housing insecurity, respectively, than non-Philadelphia graduates, according to the report. 


The report advised the local government, philanthropists and corporations to assist students during and after the pandemic by expanding and investing in scholarships and access to public housing and action funds.

Colleges and universities were encouraged to expand emergency aid programs, destigmatize and increase student awareness of financial support, to promote public benefits, according to the report. 

Kesare Mowrer, a senior accounting major and member of the Hope Center Student Leadership Advisory Council, hopes that higher education institutions recognize the severity of basic needs insecurity, she said. 

“There are steps to take to at least help alleviate some of the pressure on students, you know, and I think it’s incentive for colleges because I believe that all students want to do well,” Mowrer said. 

David Koppisch, associate director of community engagement at the Hope Center believes that colleges are now more equipped to help students with issues that may have stemmed from the pandemic, he said.

The March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act provided $14 billion in financial relief to colleges, $6 billion of which was earmarked for emergency grants, according to the report.

Forty-five percent of students who experienced basic needs insecurity in the fall of 2020 were made aware of the CARES Act grant and 25 percent knew of other emergency aid resources, according to the report.

Eighteen percent of students at local private four-year institutions and 9 percent of students at local public four-year institutions received benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides nutrition assistance to low-income families and individuals, according to the report. 

The March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act provided $40 billion in support for higher education institutions and students, according to the report. 

Temple’s CARE Team will continue to aid students experiencing basic needs insecurities, regardless of the findings of the report, Stark wrote.

It is hard to know exactly how many Temple students participated in the survey, therefore it is “not going to impact the way that [the CARE Team] provide support to students at this time” as a result of the Hope Center’s findings, Stark wrote.

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