For homeless youth to make it through college, they need extra support, best provided through a government program of homeless liaisons.
New York has been among the top 10 states with unaccompanied homeless youth (UHY) filing for federal financial aid for the last three years. In a private report to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, the United States Department of Education, reports that there were 2,215 college students applying for financial aid in New York who indicated on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid that they were homeless last year. This number does not include undocumented youth who are not eligible to apply for federal or state aid.
Unfortunately, these students are often left behind. It wasn’t until last year that New York changed an extremely outdated component of its $1 billion Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) that updated this 40-year-old in-state need-based financial aid program. The change made it so UHY are now eligible for the maximum TAP award of $5,165 that Dependent students are eligible for, versus the maximum TAP award of $3,025 available to Independent students.
In addition to outdated laws that limit the amount of aid they can receive, UHY face a number of other challenges including food insecurity, a lack of adult guidance and support, failure to access available support systems, lack of access to parental financial information, limited housing options, and a lack of financial means to live independently and safely.
New York should create a policy that models the federal McKinney-Vento Act on a college level. This landmark piece of legislation successfully creates safety nets and institutional support structures for K-12 students. By law, every school district in the country, and every school building in New York City, is required to have a liaison who is responsible for coordinating support and resources for homeless and unaccompanied youth. Every year, liaisons are required to undergo training to stay current on best practices to support and assist homeless students. Furthermore, their work has given lawmakers data and information on the best ways to support these communities.
There are more than 130,000 K-12 homeless students in New York. Among those students, nearly 11,000 11th and 12th graders approaching the end of their high school careers. These are only the numbers that are reported and do not account for the possibility of additional students who are in need.
Given the number of colleges and universities, the number of community based organizations and support networks that exist, and the high-level of poverty in New York, the state has the potential to become a leader in creating a framework of how states should build support systems for unaccompanied homeless youth to access and succeed in college.
Governor Cuomo should initiate the policy process to develop a law requiring a homeless liaison at every brick-and-mortar college and university in the state, to ensure that all former McKinney-Vento students are supported during their transition into college and throughout their tenure until graduation. The homeless liaison would be the first point of contact for professionals working with these young people and for the students who experience, or who are at risk of experiencing, homelessness while at college. The liaison would also be charged with coordinating all needed services. In addition, the liaison would be responsible for tracking and reporting all relevant data to help inform future policy regarding homeless college students and develop greater support services.
This kind of support and data-gathering could potentially exist without legislation. However, this issue is a prime example of where the state could do it better and more comprehensibly. With legislative protections and teeth to ensure sustainable and uniformed support is given, as well as appropriate resources for service delivery, training, technology, data collection, and future statewide policy initiatives, the liaisons will be able to provide better support to UHY in college. A statewide policy setting up liaisons would establish an infrastructure that can be used to easily implement future policy.
As economic inequality and homelessness rates remain high, and college attainment continues to be so crucial, it’s critical that New York take action to protect our most at-need college students to ensure that those who are pursuing their dreams don’t slip through the cracks.
Kevin Stump is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Leadership Director.