It seems that a college degree is no longer a golden, one-way ticket to a comfortable middle-class life; in fact, it’s just the opposite.
According to the December 2015 “Hungry to Learn” study from the Wisconsin Hope Lab, roughly half of all community college students struggle to find secure housing and a consistent food source – 20 percent are hungry and 13 percent are homeless while pursuing their degree. Unsurprisingly, only 29 percent of community college students obtain an associate’s degree within three years; a success rate that is closely tied to family income level.
These startling statistics are attributed in part to disproportionate tuition increases that far outpace inflation, the scope of financial aid and students’ socioeconomic status. The result? Rent-burdened or homeless community college students paying an inhumane price for a degree.
How Much is Too Much?
Food insecurity is defined as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods” and can span from having anxiety over finding breakfast or being unable to afford balanced, nutritious meals, according to the study. Housing insecurity can include “unaffordable housing, poor housing quality, crowding and frequent moves,” with homelessness at the most extreme end of the spectrum.
Unfortunately, community college students are no strangers to either. A reported 22 percent have gone hungry due to a lack of money, and another 22 percent have struggled to pay rent on time.
“The survey likely underestimates the problem because students struggling with housing or food issues are some of the hardest to reach, while others simply drop out of college,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab in an interview with MarketWatch. Sara is an educational policy studies professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an author of the study. “At some point during the semester or a year into it, people going through this say, ‘I’m sorry it’s too much.'”
What’s worse, the study also found that severely food insecure community college students have an increased likelihood of having mental health issues.
“More than half (55 percent) of respondents indicating very low levels of food security also report symptoms of probable clinical depression,” reported the study. More specifically, 52 percent reported severe anxiety, 16 percent reported symptoms of an eating disorder and 20 percent have had thoughts of suicide in the last year. To put it in perspective, those figures are slashed in half for the “food secure” students.
The Wisconsin Hope Lab study provides some much-needed insight into the implications of increased tuition for those that truly can’t afford it. Outside of eliciting shock and sadness, the study illustrates an emergency-type situation in need of sweeping national and state-level reforms to level the educational playing field and give all students an equal shot at success in America.
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