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Milwaukee Area Technical College open house

Prospective students mill about the Welcoming Center at a Milwaukee Area Technical College open house in fall 2016.

A Wisconsin HOPE Lab report released Wednesday argues technical colleges should invest in efforts to assess and address students’ basic needs in food and housing in light of a survey that found an estimated one-third are hungry and 14 percent are homeless.

The authors of the report released Wednesday, “Hungry and Homeless in College,” called on the higher education community to recognize the growing challenge of educating students whose basic needs have not been met.

“Everyone working in higher education, whether it is via shaping policies and practices, teaching, supporting students, or allocating funding, needs to be cognizant that a failure to secure students’ basic needs during college puts them at risk of dropout,” they wrote.

The study by the HOPE Lab at University of Wisconsin-Madison drew on information from 33,000 students at 70 community colleges in 24 states, including UW Colleges and Chippewa Valley, Milwaukee Area and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical Colleges.

The new study is the latest in a series by the HOPE Lab to study hunger and homelessness on college campuses, an emerging field of research. It is the largest study to date examining food and housing insecurity among community — or technical — college students. The research was conducted by Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and founding director of the HOPE Lab while she was at UW-Madison, Jed Richardson, director of the HOPE Lab, and UW-Madison graduate student Anthony Hernandez.

They wrote in their latest report that addressing basic needs at two-year institutions is critical.

“Community colleges are the most accessible, affordable points of entry to higher education in the United States and they exist in nearly every corner of the nation. They serve nearly one in two undergraduates and enroll by far the most economically and racially diverse students,” the authors said.

Tuition and fees are lower at community colleges, but have increased substantially compared to family income, the authors said.

They cited research findings that after all aid is counted, a family earning $21,000 a year would pay $8,300, or 40 percent of total income, for a year in community college. So, while there is evidence of growing food and housing insecurity across all college types, “it is imperative for policymakers and practitioners to first focus their efforts on addressing basic needs in security at community colleges,” the study’s authors said.

They recommended that community colleges:

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  • Identify an institutional leader of committee of leaders who are charged with assessing and addressing students’ basic needs security.
  • Hire a case manager to serve as a single point of contact for student with food or housing needs.
  • Use creative approaches to address food insecurity, like: campus food pantries, community gardens and food recovery programs.
  • Consider the needs of lower and moderate income students when developing on-campus housing
  • Develop a robust and accessible emergency aid program.

Policy recommendations at the state and federal level included: expanding food stamp eligibility, creating incentives for community colleges to offer benefit access on campus, expanding Pell Grant funding for low-income students to year-round support, assisting in making summer progress in their studies.

The most recent study found higher rates of food insecurity than seen in earlier HOPE Lab studies, along with consistent rates of housing insecurity. There was little variation in hunger and homelessness by geographic region, the authors wrote. Former foster youth, however, had a higher rate of homelessness — 29 percent — than others attending community college.

Nearly one-third of students reporting food or housing insecurity were both working and receiving financial aid. Other forms of support were seemingly not accessible to students; the authors estimated that while 62 of parenting student were food insecure and almost 14 percent were homeless, only about 5 percent received child care assistance.

Following the HOPE Lab's conclusion in summer 2018, the HOPE Center for College, Community, and Justice will open at Temple University under the direction of Goldrick-Rab.

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