Survey results show that half of Washington College students face food or housing insecurity

Amanda Zhou / The Seattle Times

About half of Washington’s college students have experienced some form of food or housing insecurity, according to the results of a new survey distributed to nearly a quarter of a million students in the state.

Western Washington University staff sent the voluntary survey, developed on behalf of the Washington Student Achievement Council, to students at 39 colleges and universities across Washington in September 2022.

Approximately 9,770 students responded, about 4% of the total number of students, with respondents being roughly representative of the demographics of students who received the survey, although low-income women, whites, and full-time, first-generation students had higher response rates.

The survey revealed:

* 38% of students experienced food insecurity in the past month.

* 34% of students had housing insecurity in the last year.

* 11% of students were homeless in the last year.

* 49% of students experienced either food or housing insecurity.

To measure food insecurity, students were asked if they could not afford to buy more groceries when they were hungry or to eat a balanced diet. Students were also asked if they were eating less or skipping meals to save money.

Food insecurity was equally common among two-year and four-year college students, and housing insecurity and homelessness were slightly more common among two-year college students.

Students affected by housing insecurity reported having had a rent increase or mortgage increase that was difficult to pay, unable to pay rent or utility bills, moving in with other people because of financial problems, exceeding the capacity of an apartment, leaving a household had relocated three or more times in the past year due to security concerns.

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Homeless students said they had slept on a friend or relative’s couch, in an RV, outdoors, or in a place not intended for human habitation, such as a garage, car, or abandoned building, or temporarily, for the past year stayed at a hotel, overnight accommodation, temporary accommodation, group home or treatment center.

Housing insecurity and homelessness were slightly more common in two-year colleges, with about 38% and 13% of two-year college students reporting housing insecurity and homelessness, respectively.

Students who identify as LGBTQ+, are parents or carers, had a disability, or were formerly in foster care also experienced higher rates of homelessness and food and housing insecurity than other students surveyed.

The survey asked about other basic needs, including childcare. Around 19% of students said they were parents or carers and of those who needed childcare, two-thirds said they could not afford to pay for it.

Students were asked if they had difficulty finding health care or mental health services because of cost, insurance, or being able to find a care provider. About 40% of all students reported not having adequate access to health care or mental health services.

While the vast majority of students had regular access to a computer and the Internet, approximately 18% of students in Washington’s southeastern region and 20% of Black students reported that they did not have enough Internet access to graduate in the past month do coursework.

Among students eligible for need-based financial assistance, 66% said they had problems with housing, food, childcare, health care or technology, which is about 17 percentage points higher than the overall student population, according to the report.

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