Nearly half of Minnesota college and university students cannot consistently afford their housing costs, while more than one-third struggle to pay for adequate food, according to a new report.
A survey of about 10,000 students from more than two dozen two-year and four-year institutions in Minnesota released Thursday by Temple University's Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice found that students — particularly students of color — frequently have difficulty meeting their basic needs.
Nearly three-quarters of Indigenous students reported experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness in the past 12 months, according to the report.
Housing insecurity can include an inability to pay rent or utilities or a lack of a consistent place to live. Six in 10 black and Hispanic students and 43% of white students said they had difficulty meeting their housing needs.
In addition, two in three Indigenous students said they had experienced food insecurity in the previous month, compared with about half of black and Hispanic students and about one-third of white students, according to the report.
"No student can succeed in the classroom if they can't get food or shelter outside the classroom," said Oballa Oballa, president of LeadMN, a statewide student association, in a statement. "If Minnesota wants to meet the state workforce demands, we need to help meet the basic needs of college students so they can focus on the classroom."
Food and housing insecurity is a more common problem at community colleges than at four-year institutions, the report found. Six in 10 two-year college students said they had experienced food insecurity in the previous month or housing insecurity during the previous year.
Many students who experience basic needs insecurity are "overwhelmingly active participants in the labor force," according to the report.
"Even though I am working two jobs while going through school full time, I still don't have enough money to pay for food after paying for tuition and living expenses," said Oballa, a refugee from Kenya and student at Riverland Community College in Owatonna. "I feel like I cannot succeed and that makes me worried about my future."
Homelessness affected 18% of survey respondents at two-year institutions and 15% at four-year institutions in Minnesota.
A vast majority of students who experienced homelessness temporarily stayed with a relative or friend, or couch-surfed, according to the report.
"The increasing cost of college is putting a lot more pressure on students who are struggling to manage all these issues," said LeadMN executive director Mike Dean.
Many students lack free time to explore their options and lack awareness of public services, Dean said. He added that large quantities of paperwork pose a challenge for students who apply for public benefits, such as SNAP.
"We're forcing students to go through too many hoops to essentially say they're low-income," Dean said.
Colleges and universities should flag students with zero expected family contributions to identify them as students who need additional resources, Dean said.
While an increasing number of schools offer assistance, such as food pantries and grants, few students are utilizing the resources. Only about 20% of food-insecure students used a campus food pantry.
The stigma around seeking help is a serious issue for students, according to Erica Stene Winkler, a counselor at Anoka Technical College, one of several community colleges recognized by LeadMN for their work to address food insecurity on campus.
Anoka offers crisis grants, including grocery store and gas gift cards, to its 1,700 students and opened a food pantry on campus in November where students and their families can shop twice a month.
"In an ideal world, you have all your basic needs met before you're positioned to learn and develop, but that's not the case for our students," Stene Winkler said. "They might never have that opportunity until after they graduate college."