In 2020, a national student financial wellness survey uncovered shocking truths about college student struggles. More than half of respondents showed signs of food insecurity while over 10% had experiences with homelessness. Worries about food and housing have a detrimental effect on academic success. While every racial group suffers from basic needs insecurity, Indigenous and Black students reported struggling the most frequently.

When a student is worried about affording food or shelter, they aren’t able to focus on their studies. 25% of students suffering end up dropping classes. They’re 15 times more likely to fail a class than their peers. Less than 20% of them manage to graduate in 5 years or fewer.

It remains true that having a college degree is one of the fastest tickets out of poverty. But for low-income individuals, that degree seems more out of reach than ever. Many forego college or drop out. Just 20% of students who pause their education for financial reasons ever eventually graduate. Because many dropouts took out loans to attend school, they are left in a worse financial situation than when they entered college. These students lost time and working years with no degree to show for it.

While colleges offer emergency financial assistance for food or housing, between 24% and 49% of students are unaware of the programs. Of those who do know about them, half are unsure how to apply. Making more people aware of eligibility and procedural requirements would go miles in alleviating suffering among students.

For students who do receive emergency assistance, the money is a lifesaver. Nearly 70% of those who received emergency aid say the funding increased their chances of graduating. The money allows them to pay for food, transportation, housing, or class materials. Having the money to succeed gave them a chance.