Many Georgia college students struggle to secure consistent housing and food, according to a recent study by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice based at Temple University.
Thirty-nine percent of college students surveyed faced housing insecurity, and 37 percent faced food insecurity. That means students had a challenging time paying for food, rent and utilities. One in three students said they skipped or cut the size of their meals because they couldn’t afford food. Overall, more than half of Georgia students faced food or housing insecurity in the past year.
The study found that many college students who struggle with basic needs are employed, suggesting that these challenges do not result from lack of work. Nearly 60 percent of students surveyed are employed and work an average of 24 hours per week. In fact, the more students work, the more likely they are to be food or housing insecure.
Forty-two percent of students did not receive financial support from their parents to help pay for college or living costs. These students were also more likely to experience food and housing insecurity.
Elton is a student whose experience illustrates the struggle to pay for basic living expenses and how working can take a toll on academics.
I got accepted to the University of North Georgia and received my associate degree in business administration. During my time at UNG, I was fortunate enough to pay for my education solely on scholarships and grants. At the time, I was still living with my parents where I was basically dependent on them for food and housing and didn’t really have to pay anything. I decided to transfer to the University of Georgia and pursue a bachelor’s degree in finance at the Terry College of Business. When I transferred I did not consider how impacted I would be from living expenses because it was the first time I was leaving home. Although I had a few scholarships like HOPE and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, I will still not able to cover all of my costs – especially rent, food, and bills.
My first couple of years I struggled with paying my expenses. I decided to get a job as a server at a Mexican restaurant called Tlaloc. I worked there for a couple months during the week and weekends when I started to notice an impact on my grades. I saw myself struggling to maintain my grades and eventually my GPA started to decline. I honestly believe that it was a trade-off between having to work to pay off bills or spend more time to study and excel in school. Once I noticed that my grades were taking a toll I had to quit my job and focus mostly on school. I lost the HOPE scholarship, which paid 80 percent of my tuition, because I was not performing well in school and that made it more difficult on me. I realized that I had to do one or the other and that by doing both work and school at the same time I would not perform to my full potential and succeed.
Though the report did not look at academic performance, for many students money is a roadblock and tens of thousands drop out each year due to financial need. The university system estimates more than 112,000 students have an average unmet financial need of over $7,000 per year.
Last session the legislature authorized state needs-based financial aid. By funding needs-based grants, lawmakers can ensure more students’ investments in their education translates to a degree, and that graduation rests on completing coursework, not an ability to pay the bills.