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Homelessness creates tall barriers for many college students pursuing postsecondary education. It can also come along with many secondary difficulties, such as lack of family support, histories of abuse, trauma, neglect, and systemic poverty, all of which are added challenges when pursuing higher education. These barriers can limit access to higher education, making it difficult to remain enrolled, let alone graduate, and creating long-term negative effects such as long-term economic instability and a lack of self-sufficiency.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated many of these existing barriers, including low enrollment [1] and a decrease in financial aid completion [2]. New research from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that of the “2.6 million students who entered college as first-time freshmen in the fall of 2019, only 74 percent returned for their second year — an unprecedented two percentage point drop, the lowest level since 2012”. However, the situation is more dire for low-income and minority students, and they have seen the most dramatic enrollment and persistence drops [3].

Historically, very few states have offered higher education policies that support homeless college students; however, states are beginning to respond because of the recent increase in student homelessness. The most recent example of new legislation supporting these students is Georgia Senate Bill 107, passed in May 2021, which amended Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated relating to the postsecondary education of homeless and foster youth. Specifically, this bill provides:

  • Tuition and room and board waivers at two-year colleges for foster care students
  • In-state tuition at two- and four-year colleges for students under the age of 24 and experiencing homelessness
  • Provisions for university staff to determine homelessness status, like the McKinney-Vento Act [4].

Considering the increase in the number of homeless students, states should focus on policies to support these students' successful completion of a college degree. Such policies would be good for students, institutions, and state governments, as college graduates "contribute more in taxes and are less reliant on government services [5]." This paper will examine policies and practices in seven southeastern states, draw conclusions, and make recommendations for higher education institutions, policymakers, and philanthropy.

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Recommendations for Higher Educational Supports for Students Experiencing Homelessness in the Southeastern United States