I come from a low-income family and struggle with my basic needs. As hard as it may be to admit, so do many college students. While in a very rigorous nursing program, I often look for jobs and internships to cover my essential needs, such as food and clothes. It is overwhelming and hard to achieve my academic goals in school when these things are always at the forefront of my mind. Unfortunately, I cannot find a flexible internship or job that pays above minimum wage to help me throughout the semester. My campus does not provide information that deals with the issue of basic needs or paid opportunities, and they struggle with communication–I can hardly schedule a meeting with my counselor because they do not answer.
Though my situation is frustrating, it is nothing compared to what others are going through and are still going through. According to a study called #RealCollege: During the Pandemic in 2020, 5.8 out of every ten students experienced basic need insecurities. Due to the pandemic, many families are left with little to nothing for their basic needs, and even though many students get into college with financial aid, it is still hard to stay. Colleges charge $140-200 for textbooks, on top of $35,000 for tuition every year, while some students do not know where their next meal is coming from or where they will sleep at night because they don’t live on campus and cannot afford room and board. Something needs to be done. In the same 2020 #RealCollege survey, 41% of students experienced housing insecurities, 15% experienced homelessness, and 38% experienced food insecurities at a four-year college. At a two-year college, 36% of students experienced housing insecurity, 44% food insecurity, and 11% experienced homelessness. Although getting to college is the goal, being able to stay in college is just as important.
So, if students struggle with food insecurities and homelessness, their chances of staying in college are slim. Imagine getting a job at a company, but essential resources in the office, such as copy machines, parking spaces, and computers, were not provided. Like companies and their employees, Universities need to make their resources widely known to students so they can become the problem-solvers these entities expect them to be. Again, it’s a matter of access and support mechanisms.
Universities can send out emails with resources like on or off-campus paid internships and jobs, increase the number of counselors, requiring them to check in with students about basic needs throughout their time in college. Moreover, universities need to have more jobs on campus that pay above minimum wage. With funding from the state (NY), campuses should be instructed to provide the funds to students struggling with basic needs through an application process. They also need to make the support being provided known and ensure low-income students are first served with an email notifying them about the available funding. In addition, universities should also send out an email to the student body with a survey application for students that are housing insecure and give students solutions to providing safe housing options.
These changes need to be enforced by the state and universities because talking about it is not enough to address the lack of essential support students continue to face.
Aaliyah Clement is a member of Young Invincibles’ New York Young Advocates Program.