A student-housing tower at San Jose State University. Affordable student housing and even basic food necessities can be a challenge for many Latino college students trying to stay in school. Photo credit: John Loo/Flickr

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, many Latino college students were struggling to afford housing and food in addition to their educational expenses. One study from 2017 found that 31% of Latino college-age students reported they had low food security. Latinos represented 38% of California’s homeless college students in a 2019 survey by the California Student Aid Commission.

These students are “skipping some meals and sleeping in vehicles or otherwise going deeper and deeper into poverty, all in the name of seeking higher education,” said Marlene Garcia, executive director of the Commission, in a report based on the survey.

How is COVID-19 affecting these trends? Predictably, it has made things even worse.

Sixty-five percent of Latino students nationwide are having trouble getting their basic food and housing needs met, a report from the HOPE Center for College, Community and Justice revealed in June.

For instance, in Michigan, recent data shows that job losses, lack of affordable internet access, and unaffordable child-care options for student parents is leading to a crisis, with 15% of students experiencing homelessness during the spring 2020 semester, and 50% of students reporting food insecurity across the board.

For Latino students and Black students, the numbers are even bleaker: the Michigan League for Public Policy’s report, “Studying in the Shadow of the Coronavirus,” says that 65% of Latinos and 71% of Black college students can’t get their basic needs met.

Adding to the problem is that many of these students aren’t aware of federal emergency aid programs or local food and housing resources that could help. Students who need support should seek out programs, such as California State University, Monterey Bay’s Basic Needs Initiative, which launched a food pantry and serves full-time, part-time, and graduate students. They also offer services to undocumented students. 

For colleges that are closed or that have shut down parts of campus due to COVID-19, however, some of those resources may not be available for many students. 


Omar L. Gallaga is a freelance journalist living in Central Texas who has written for NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, Engadget, Hispanic Magazine, CNN, MSNBC, and The Washington Post. He was a longtime technology and culture writer at The Austin American-Statesman, where he helped launch the newspaper ¡ahora sí! and two podcasts.