The Cost of Housing is Out of Reach for Independent Community College Students

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Americans must make over $44,000 to afford to rent two-bedroom home and over $34,000 to afford a one-bedroom home. On average, independent community college students’ household income is just under $34,000.

Living expenses beyond tuition, such as housing, are often one of the highest priced expenses for community college students. ACCT research shows that the cost of housing is a challenge for a large portion of community college students who have experienced housing insecurity or homeless—even when working or receiving financial aid. Data released earlier this year from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) illustrates the high cost of housing across the country. According to NLIHC researchers, on average, Americans need to work full-time (40 hours per week) earning $22.10 per hour to afford to rent a modest two-bedroom home. To afford to rent a modest one-bedroom home, they need to work full-time earning $17.90.

These hourly wages roughly translate to $44,200 per year and $35,800 per year respectively. The NLIHC affordability index can be compared to students’ income using the most recently available income data from the U.S. Department of Education National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS),[1] and adjusting for inflation to 2018 dollars. By this calculation, on average, independent community college students have a household income of about $33,955 per year—about one thousand dollars shy of the amount needed to afford a one-bedroom home. Furthermore, NPSAS data show that students with dependent children—who would likely need more living space—have an average income of $42,610, which is enough to afford a one-bedroom home but just under the amount needed to afford a two-bedroom home. Single parents have an average income of only $20,930 making neither a one-bedroom nor a two-bedroom home affordable for their family.

The high cost of housing is one of many affordability challenges faced by community college students that can have a negative impact on their academic progress. When students face high costs to pursing their education, they may decide to work additional hours leaving less time to devote to coursework. If costs are too high to cover using financial aid and money earned from working, some students may decide to stop-out or drop-out from college. Moving forward, college leaders and policy makers should devote more resources to helping community college students pay for both the direct cost of college tuition and fees, and the often larger costs of housing and living expenses.

Allison Beer is the senior policy analyst for ACCT. She can be reached at 

[1] The most recent data is students’ income from 2014, available in the 2016 National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey.

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