Why students are sacrificing a place to sleep for a degree

“Homeless college student” seems like a paradoxical term at first sight. Because of the social stigma surrounding the idea of homelessness and the resulting shame that students in such conditions feel, the issue has long been veiled. However, it is a growing and pervasive problem impacting the mental health and academic performance of many students.

So why are more college students increasingly homeless? Unlike generations before, college education is no longer for the privileged. Higher education, although priced like a luxury, is considered by most as a necessity in our society. There are countless studies consistently showing that access to higher education leads to tangible long term benefits in terms of personal wealth, health and social contributions. It is estimated that the lifetime earning of a worker with a Bachelor’s Degree is $1 million more than a worker with a high school diploma (1). Therefore, many consider college completion a necessary investment for themselves and their families. Although it is a triumph that more are having access to higher education, this has led to the new population of students who inevitably risk their health and safety for education.

Homelessness can happen to college students almost instantly, considering that many, especially at community colleges, are financially independent from their parents. They might lose their part-time job or get kicked out by their roommate. They miss one paycheck, cannot pay rent and do not have anyone to borrow money from. Their parents are not financially stable. A simple cascade of unfortunate events like this can leave a college student on the street.

For many of these homeless college students, dropping out is not an option. Education, “the great equaliser”, is their only hope to break the cycle of poverty. However, this is incredibly challenging when they need to do homework in their car, or shower in a public bathroom. It is extremely difficult for one to thrive in school when their safety and comfort are not guaranteed.

  1. https://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/reg/hearulemaking/2011/collegepayoff.pdf

About the Author:

Ahhyun Kim is a member of the Media Committee at Trojan Shelter. Her primary responsibilities lie in photography and social media management. She is a sophomore double majoring in Sociology and Communication, as well as minoring in Cinematic Arts. Besides from Trojan Shelter, Ahhyun is a volunteer at Annenberg Radio News and the Annenberg Neon Magazine. She also is a Residential Assistant and works at the USC Bookstore. She likes to take photos with her 35mm camera and watch movies.