The cost of housing should not determine if a student is able to graduate, yet housing insecurity is one of the primary drivers preventing low-income, BIPOC, immigrant, and parenting students from persisting. In fact, 47% of California’s Black students and 57% of parenting students in the state report being housing insecure. Among community college students, housing accounts for 67% of their total cost of attendance, driving 60% of community college students to experience housing insecurity in 2019.

These statistics demonstrate the imperative need for California to address the total cost of college attendance by reforming housing insecurity and affordability. In an effort to do just that, we are proud to award a Michelson Spark Grant to Public Advocates, Inc., in support of their efforts to address student housing needs among California’s 116 community colleges. 

Recognizing that existing aid opportunities for students focus on the tuition, rather than housing, Public Advocates will work to fill the gap in understanding by ensuring student voices are heard so that stakeholders and change makers have the knowledge necessary to implement lasting, positive, scalable solutions throughout the state. To do so, they will work with student organizations to host listening sessions and conduct surveys with the intent of truly understanding the experiences and challenges of today’s community college students, particularly BIPOC and immigrant students. 

Their work has the potential to significantly improve the true cost of attending community college. For example, if average rent in a metropolitan area is $2,500 but students are able to rent using the Higher Education Student Housing Grant Program’s defined rate of 30-50% of the area median income, then the true cost of attending college may be reduced by $15,000 per year. This would also, in turn, decrease student debt as students would not need to take out sizable loans simply to make ends meet. 

In light of the potential to transform the lives of California’s students, Public Advocates is committed to ensuring that their work is widely understood and implemented. Following the initial listening sessions and surveys, Public Advocates will leverage media advocacy to secure awareness of student basic needs and foster increased investment that will alleviate the true cost of college. Ultimately, they hope to stimulate state-wide investments in student housing. 

We look forward to sharing the results of Public Advocates’ research and awareness campaigns over the coming years!

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation seeking to accelerate progress towards a more just world through grantmaking, operating programs, and impact investing. Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

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