Report: Black students face material hardships at state community colleges

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Essex County College in Newark (Jim.Henderson/Public Domain photo)
Urban News Staff Reports

A report on basic needs challenges faced by New Jersey college students reveals that the cost of higher education in the Garden State goes far beyond just tuition.

Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis and Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson joined representatives from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice to release this year’s #RealCollege Survey. Seventeen county colleges participated in this year’s survey, which reveals students’ experiences with food, housing, and other insecurities related to students’ basic needs.

The results will inform the next phase of work to make college more affordable in New Jersey, recognizing that a college education not only includes school tuition and fees, but also the costs of basic needs like food, housing, and childcare. The statistics allow institutional leaders and policymakers to have a true understanding of the full costs faced by today’s students to bolster efforts to support students holistically. Following the presentation of the survey results, national experts discussed national trends and best practices to address material hardships.

Highlights in the report include, 39% of respondents being food insecure in the prior 30 days, 44% of respondents being housing insecure in the previous year and 14% of respondents being homeless in the previous year.

White students have lower rates of food insecurity at 33%  compared to Black students at 51%.

“We are working diligently to identify and address the material hardships students face as they work hard to obtain a credential. We know that there is more work to be done to support our students and the #RealCollege survey helps us to begin to understand the true needs and costs for college student so that we can continue to tackle this critical issue,” said Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis. “We have already begun to partner with county colleges to address material hardships through the grants for wraparound services provided through the Community College Opportunity Grant Program and look forward to soon announcing the awardees of the Hunger Free Campus Act Grant Program."

Now in its fifth year, the #RealCollege survey is the nation’s largest, longest-running annual assessment of basic needs security among college students. In the absence of any federal data on the subject, the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice created the survey to evaluate access to affordable food and housing among college students.

This report describes the results of the #RealCollege survey administered in the fall of 2019 at 17 of the 18 New Jersey community colleges, a subset of the 227 two- and four-year institutions surveyed across the United States. 

In 2019, just over 9,110 students from 17 New Jersey community colleges responded to the survey.

"New Jersey’s community colleges have long been concerned that too many community college students struggle to find food and a place to live. We are grateful that the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and the Hope Center have quantified the extent of those struggles,” said Dr. Aaron Fichtner, President, New Jersey Council of County Colleges. “The findings in the #RealCollege Survey Report will inform our current and future efforts to work with state government, community-based organizations and others to expand partnerships and strengthen programs to address the food and housing needs of students."

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