By RayJaun Stelly
The Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), an organization dedicated to advancing educational opportunities in Washington State, recently conducted a survey to gain an understanding of what basic needs college students may or may not be receiving.
According to the survey, which was conducted during the fall of 2020 in partnership with Western Washington University, nearly half of the college students in Washington state have reported experiencing food insecurity, housing insecurity, or homelessness. Over 9,700 students from 39 colleges and universities from across the state participated in this first-ever statewide post-secondary basic needs survey.
More specifically, the survey, which highlighted many of the challenges that many college students face, found that nearly four in 10 students surveyed reported experiencing food insecurity in the last 30 days, over a third reported experiencing housing insecurity in the last 12 months, and more than one in 10 having experienced homelessness.
Ami Magisos, Associate Director of Policy and Planning at WSAC, says that the report sheds light on an issue that very few people are talking about.
“This is the first state-level report on the prevalence of basic needs insecurity of college and university students in Washington, and likely in the nation,” says Magisos. “It aligns with national research, showing that Washington students are experiencing significant levels of food and housing insecurity, homelessness, and other unmet needs.”
Tamarack Randall, Associate Director of Ending Poverty at United Way King County, agrees and says that this is an issue that must be addressed if we want students to be successful.
“Every day at the 10 campuses where United Way of King County offers the Bridge to Finish program, we see students striving to meet their goals while struggling with the insecurity of meeting their most basic needs,” says Randall. “Washington State needs to take steps to ensure we help these students meet these needs so they can focus on learning and completing their programs. Education s a pathway out of poverty, and we need to ensure it is accessible.”
The Basic Needs Security Among Washington College Students survey also revealed that rates of basic needs insecurity were high across all regions in the state from 45% in North Puget Sound to nearly 58% in South Central Washington. The level of basic needs insecurity was similar at two-year colleges totaling 50.2% and at four-year colleges at 48.8%.
In addition, less than half of students experiencing basic needs insecurity had accessed basic needs support resources within the last six months, with just 48.9% accessing public resources, and only 33.8% accessing resources on campus.
Unfortunately, certain groups of students were disproportionately affected by their lack of basic needs. American Indian, Alaska Native, and African American students reported experiencing basic needs insecurity at rates 20% higher than white students, while ex-foster care students reported the highest rates of basic needs insecurity with 67.5% experiencing food insecurity, and 23.7% dealing with homelessness.
In response to this dilemma, St. Rep. Debra Entenman (D – 47th Dist.), says that she plans to re-submit a request to the USDA asking for an exemption that will allow students to utilize their EBT cards so they can have access to food on campuses.
According to Entenman, there are many homeless and low-income students who have EBT cards but are unable to use them on campus or can only use them in a limited capacity. This poses a conflict for students who have shared that they do not have cooking facilities because they’re homeless, which means it is difficult for them to prepare food for a hot meal. Although students may qualify for assistance some are unable to fully utilize the benefits.
Entenman, who is currently in the legislative session, expressed, “I also will share information about resources that are available from local, state, and federal resources. I will also continue to work to ensure that college students in Washington state have access to food while they are on campus.”
Students from all demographics from 39 different colleges throughout Washington state have spoken through this survey about what basic needs they’re lacking it poses the question to our legislators and policymakers of when students will see change. When will it become a priority to provide students with the necessities they need in their everyday lives to simply survive?
With the legislative session in place for 105 days this year, the pressure is on policymakers, considering what the survey has now revealed, to hopefully address and resolve the problem, and allows all students, regardless of their race or circumstances, to receive the help they need from the state.