20% of College Students Struggle to Find Stable Housing—Why It Could Have Long-Term Consequences

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The "broke college student" stereotype has been around for a while. But as college costs have risen to exorbitant levels, the stakes have gotten higher too. 

Where college students used to fear a budget-friendly ramen noodle diet, now 1 in 5 students have dealt with housing insecurity, according to a recent survey from student loyalty network, Student Beans. The company defines housing insecurity as someone who "finds themselves without a permanent place of residence while studying."

"There is a serious lack of affordable housing for students," says Will Harris, Student Beans' chief strategy officer. "We fear that this may become a barrier for those from disadvantaged backgrounds who are intimidated by the rising and increasingly competitive rental market."

Affording tuition is just one part of the overall financial journey for college students. Although most of the students surveyed report receiving some financial aid through loans, scholarships or grants, 55% still said their financial situations have negatively impacted their lives. 

States that tend to have lower costs of living don't appear to be offering more affordable housing situations for students either. Florida leads the pack for states with the highest share of students facing housing insecurity:

  • Florida: 29%
  • Texas: 26%
  • Georgia: 24%
  • California: 21%
  • Illinois: 20%
  • North Carolina: 17%
  • Pennsylvania: 14%
  • Ohio: 14%
  • Michigan: 13%
  • New York: 13%

Limited housing options push students to consider withdrawing

Housing-related stress can be daunting, not just making it difficult for students to be physically present on campus, but to focus on their studies as well. Around 36% of students have thought about dropping out of school due to financial reasons, Student Beans found. That number jumps to 72% for students who've faced housing insecurity.

Despite the financial hurdles to getting your undergraduate degree, not finishing can come with even bigger challenges. While more education doesn't always translate to a higher salary, it usually helps.

Those with bachelor's degrees earn roughly 75% more over their lifetimes than those with only a high school diploma, according to research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

When it comes to student loan borrowers, those who did not complete their degrees are three times as likely to default on their loans as those who earned a diploma. That's not to say students struggling to afford housing should try to finish their degrees at all costs, but alleviating the housing issue can help students' success, Harris says.

"We would love to see more being done to create more accessible housing for our students, ensuring they have access to appropriate accommodation and allowing them to focus their energies on excelling in their studies," he says. 

College housing has increasingly slid into crisis mode as construction on new housing has failed to keep up with enrollment and funding for schools has fallen, according to research organization Urban Institute.

Addressing the student housing crisis will require efforts from a number of different parties, including legislative changes and institutional creativity, like utilizing non-traditional housing options, Urban Institute says. 

Affording to rent or buy a home is certainly not a problem unique to college students. But as colleges and local governments consider how to attract, retain and support students, accessible housing will be a consideration. 

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