Academic journal article Journal of Applied Research in the Community College

Engage, Streamline, & Advocate: The Continued Response of Higher Education Professionals to Homelessness among College Students

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Research in the Community College

Engage, Streamline, & Advocate: The Continued Response of Higher Education Professionals to Homelessness among College Students

Article excerpt

Introduction

Housing, food, childcare, transportation, mental health services, and a wealth of other basic needs that have been asserted as the foundation toward self-actualization go unmet for a significant number of individuals at national levels. In some instances, these deficits have been found to be even greater among individuals enrolled in institutions of higher education (Dubick, Mathews, & Cady, 2016; GoldrickRab, Richardson, & Hernandez, 2017; Gupton, 2017; Wood, Harris, & Delgado, 2016). The empirical work informing the issue of basic needs is evolving. In both research and practice, swift response is occurring to address deficits in the fundamental and basic needs of college students. Researchers have taken decades of investigations to offer strong evidenced-based assertions that college students are suffering from the lack of critical necessities such as food and shelter - and something must be done (Goldrick-Rab, Richardson, & Kinsley, 2017; Hallett & Crutchfield, 2017).

The efforts to respond and research the issue of basic needs deficits among college students are occurring almost simultaneously. Institutions cannot ignore the need to address the fundamental needs of their students and researchers diligently pursue the empirical evidence to support the most applicable responses. Basic needs, specifically that of homelessness, among college students is a rapidly evolving area of research. Although homelessness among college students is an evolving area of empirical study, there is sufficient literature to support the need for further attention and exploration.

Identifying and Defining Homelessness

The process of defining and identifying homelessness among college students is one area within existing literature that continues to take up considerable attention. This topic of discussion is important because defining problems often influence solutions developed to address them. Understanding homelessness in the context of college is important to a shared understanding of what homelessness means within the unique considerations of higher education. Ultimately, the priority is that with increased understanding and identification, there would be increased ability to offer effective support services to students. As it stands, however, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the only national indicator of homelessness among college students. There is little support of the use of the FAFSA as a sufficient or accurate tool in capturing the prevalence of this issue (Goldrick-Rab, Broton, & Eisenberg, 2015; Paden, 2012; Ringer, 2015). More specifically, the use of the FAFSA does not capture the nuanced considerations of experiencing homelessness in the context of college. Generally speaking, an evidenced-based conceptualization or comprehensive definition of homelessness among college students is still lacking (Hallett & Crutchfield, 2017).

Further confounding the efforts of defining and identifying homelessness among college students are other labels being utilized in understanding characteristics of today's "typical" student. For example, traditional or independent students are defined by characteristics such as their being at least 24 years old, married, a graduate or professional student, an active or veteran service member, current or former foster youth, a parent, or homeless or at-risk of homelessness (Cruse, Eckerson, & Gault, 2018). However, it is problematic to include homelessness as a characteristic of independent or non-traditional students without considering the implications of this circumstance compared to the other characteristics it runs alongside. While the defining characteristics of independent students have received greater consensus among higher education researchers and practitioners (Cohen, Brawer, & Kisker, 2014; Nevarez & Wood, 2010), there is less agreement in regards to the specific characteristic of homelessness among college students (Goldrick-Rab et al. …

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