College Student Success in the Face of Basic Needs Insecurity

A national student survey in 2020 had some disturbing findings about college students’ well-being. More than half of respondents showed signs of food insecurity. Over 10% had experiences with homelessness. Students of color were most likely to experience basic needs insecurity; 70% of Black students reported dealing with these problems compared to 54% of White students.

Basic needs insecurity is a problem on its own, but it endangers academic success as well. Less than 20% of the students struggling to afford food or housing are able to graduate in 5 years or fewer. Too many drop out of school entirely. Because they leave with debt but no degree, these former students are in a worse financial position than they were before attending college. 

Low income individuals are 5 times more likely to escape poverty if they acquire a college degree. But low income students are the least likely to attend and graduate college. 

If colleges are serious about supporting their lowest income students, they need to make supports more well known and accessible. About a quarter of students aren’t even aware that food assistance is available. Of those who do know, half don’t know how to apply for emergency assistance.

Supporting Student Basic Needs
Source: Kentucky Student Success Collaborative