1 In 5 Of California's Community College Students Are Homeless

Los Angeles Valley College is one of nine campuses in the LA Community College District. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)

Half of California's community college students struggle to buy food, a majority have trouble paying the rent and one in five are homeless.

Those are the disturbing results of a survey of 40,000 community college students.

"No student should face hunger or homelessness," California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Oakley said in an email. "California must do better."

When students face food and housing insecurity, their grades suffer. These students earn grades of C or lower more often than students who have no food or housing problems, the survey found. They also face higher incidences of stress, depression and poor health, according to the survey.

"This is, to my knowledge, the most comprehensive survey done of our community college students," said Larry Galizio, president of the Community College League, a group that advocates for community colleges in Sacramento.

'IT'S EXTREMELY ALARMING TO ME'

The survey was conducted by Temple University researchers for the California Community College system. Surveys were distributed at 57 of the state's 115 community colleges.

The survey arrives at a time when campus and state officials are deciding how best to tackle hunger and homelessness among their students.

One of the schools included in the survey was Cypress College, which enrolls 16,000 students at its Orange County campus. The survey found hunger and homelessness were somewhat less prevalent among its students than the statewide numbers, but not by much, said the school's president, JoAnna Schilling.

Forty-four percent of Cypress' students said they have trouble buying food, 55 percent struggle to pay their rent and 13 percent are homeless, she said.

"It's extremely alarming to me," Schilling said, noting that "Cypress is in a fairly affluent community ... I think that this will probably be a big surprise to our communities, who don't really look at our students in the same way as they look at, perhaps, what they associate the homeless with."

Schilling hopes letting the larger public know about this issue will lead more people to support efforts to help.

A CLOSER LOOK AT HOUSING

The food pantry at Cypress College has expanded in recent years, she said, but data from the survey make her wonder whether administrators should focus on other needs.

"We've not really looked at housing as being something that is essential to provide to our students," Schilling said.

She said one approach could be to ask developers to set aside new units for homeless Cypress College students.

Schilling is also supporting a bill in Sacramento that would open up community college parking lots to students who sleep in their cars at night because they have no place to live.

State officials are using the results of the survey to call on Sacramento to give students more state grants.

"This new report should serve as a call to action for fixing the state's outdated financial aid system and expanding need-based assistance for community college students," Oakley said in the email.

At issue, officials said, is that existing financial aid resources focus on covering tuition.

Oakley pointed to a bill authored by State Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) that would create a new category of financial aid for low-income community college students to give grants to cover rent, transportation and textbooks.