Penn student

Hope Center student advisory board member Tyrell Mann-Barnes.

—Submitted photo

A recently released report on food and housing insecurity among students from five local universities shows disparities between Black students and those of other ethnicities.

The #RealCollegePHL Report, researched and published by the Hope Center at Temple University in late April, surveyed more than 5,000 students and found that over half of students at two-year colleges and nearly one-third of students at universities experience food insecurity and/or housing insecurity in some form, with students of color representing higher rates than white students, Asian and Asian American students and Middle Eastern students, among others.

The report shows that Black students have among the highest rates for all three categories — food insecurity, housing insecurity and homelessness — along with Hispanic or Latinx, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Indigenous students.

Out of 834 Black students surveyed, 53 percent responded that they were food insecure, 49 percent that they were housing insecure and 16 percent that they had experienced homelessness.

“Students often marginalized in terms of race or ethnicity are more likely to experience basic needs insecurity while attending Philadelphia colleges and universities,” the report’s authors said. “A greater percentage of American Indian or Alaska Native, Indigenous, Black, and Hispanic or Latinx students face all three types of basic needs insecurity.”

Tyrell Mann-Barnes, a Temple graduate who will attend the University of Pennsylvania for a master’s in public health this fall, said he knows this struggle intimately.

In his first three years as undergraduate, he was able to work as a resident assistant with housing and meals covered. Toward the end, he said, was a completely different story.

“My last two semesters, I was working a ridiculous amount of hours to pay for rent, pay for food and pay for transportation to my internships, all while taking an 18-credit course load,” Mann-Barnes said. “I was working a 35-hour work week. Between that and applying for jobs, it was a lot of this stress of ‘How do I maintain?’ How do I pay my bills?’ Me and my roommate, at one point, our electricity was cut off.

“I also had to balance being first generation and being Black,” he added. “My experience was, how do I balance my college expectations and things I need to do to stay alive?”

Sara Goldrick-Rab, founding director of the Hope Center, said the data for the report was collected before the COVID-19 pandemic, so “we can only imagine how much worse things must be now.”

David Koppisch, director of strategic partnerships, described the issues as a threat to the economic health of the city and said a concerted effort is needed to help students graduate.

“Philadelphia is still the poorest of the 10 biggest cities,” he said. “If we can help Philadelphia stay in college, if we can help them not drop out because of food insecurity, housing insecurity and childcare costs, then we could reduce poverty.

“We think now is a really good time, especially now when everyone needs a safety net, to expand student eligibility for SNAP. A lot of [times] students are not eligible because they are considered not poor. That’s a push for this year, and working with colleges to help them inform their students these resources are available. We really are looking to partner with community organizations that may not see themselves as serving college students. There are already so many great organizations doing things, we want to connect them to colleges. We don’t need to reinvent anything.”

Mann-Barnes agreed.

“What we saw in this report is all students across the board are impacted. We see people that are students of color, first-generation students, students who are transgender or non-gender conforming. There are some students who belong to all those categories, so how do we best support the students experiencing this marginalization at multiple points of their identity?” said Mann-Barnes.

Other key statistics in the report, which was sponsored by the Lenfest Foundation, include: Nearly one in five respondents at two-year colleges were homeless at some point in the previous year; 12% of respondents at four-year colleges were homeless at some point in the previous year; all of the universities had food insecurity rates of 32-36%, despite differences in student demographics; and homelessness rates were highest at Orleans Technical College with 22% and Community College of Philadelphia with 18%.

“How do we do this in an institutional way and a policy way in higher education when they can do better in class as well as transcend all of these [issues]?” Mann-Barnes asked. “It has to drive the policy response so the students who are most impacted benefit the best from whatever policies are put forward.”

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