Homelessness has increasingly become a major issue here in the District of Columbia as housing prices continue to rise and affordable options continue to shrink, a trend that has greatly affected the city’s low-to moderate income households.
In a recent article by Jana Kasperkevic of the Guardian, a new population of the homeless is on the rise: College Undergraduates. There is a small but growing number of undergrads living out of cars or using public facilities to help reduce the ever increasing cost of a college education. And with over $1 trillion in student loan debt across the across the country, access to opportunities needed to move up the economic ladder are more out of reach now then they have ever been.
In the article, our author speaks to Jeffrey Williams. A month before his 18th birthday, Williams found himself homeless. Told by his adoptive parents that they would not support him after he graduated high school, Williams decided he would do whatever it took to go to college, knowing it was one of his few chances at upward mobility. Working at McDonalds, Williams was earning just enough to pay for his food, transportation, phone bill, and the rest went to tuition. He was finally able to qualify for financial aid after a couple years, and then took out a loan for housing.
There are more than 1.1 million homeless children and youth enrolled in US public schools, according to the Department of Education. For many of them, college education is almost completely out of reach.
This isn’t a problem that’s only facing students coming from the foster system or extremely low income families, but families of more moderate means. There are many cases of students coming from families of more moderates means still finding it increasingly difficult to afford the cost of education even with savings that are dedicated to higher education, having to choose between a degree and the only expense they have the option of cutting – housing.
Another example of this involves a family of more moderate means. Jake Stevens, a mechanical engineering major at Kettering University is homeless. Even after he maxes out his federal student loan limit, scholarships, and college fund his parents saved for him he still is unable to afford housing. Kettering University, a very expensive specialty college, provides a unique curriculum that allows Jake to attend classes half the year, while allowing him to work in the field of his studies the remaining six months of the year. Although this job pays well Stevens must use this money to pay his tuition, and due to financial troubles during the 2008 financial crisis his parents aren’t able to help him with student loans. These cases are both on the extreme end of the spectrum, but the problem is still as potent. During my sophomore year at Howard University a friend slept on our couch for two months in order to finish out the semester, because they could no longer afford housing.
There are many dynamics contributing to college affordability and the access students have to higher education, but homeownership has been one dynamic that has consistently helped in this pursuit. In a study done by Pew’s Economic Mobility Project, students whose family who saw an increase in housing wealth during the years leading up to their college years saw a higher college completion rate. Homeownership continues to provide many long-term benefits to individuals of all income categories, consistently assisting in providing opportunities for lower and moderate income families at generational success.