Homeless children and youth report that school is a home to them – a place where they see the same faces, sit in the same seat, and can put their hearts and minds into pursuits that ease their daily troubles. In school, students gain the skills and support needed to avoid poverty and homelessness as adults.

Higher Education

Setting the Context

Higher education offers one of the surest pathways out of poverty and homelessness. Yet youth who experience homelessness face barriers to accessing financial aid. They often lack the support to apply to, enroll in, and complete their post-secondary education. NAEHCY works to remove these barriers, and to assist youth, educators, service providers, and advocates in their efforts to make higher education a reality.

The Laws

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) of 2007 establishes that unaccompanied homeless youth qualify as independent students for purposes of federal financial aid. Read the full text of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA)
Download the Application and Verification Guide (U.S. Department of Education guidance for Financial Aid Administrators)

Higher Education Opportunity Act: Homeless and Foster Youth
The Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed in August 2008, contains numerous provisions to increase homeless and foster students access to postsecondary education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 includes new components that will directly assist homeless students’ transition to higher education, including new requirements that school counselors provide advice to homeless youth to prepare and improve their readiness for college, and that school district homeless liaisons ensure that unaccompanied homeless youth are informed of their status as independent students for college financial aid and obtain verification for the FAFSA.

Recently Updated NAEHCY Resources

The Most Frequently Asked Questions on the Education Rights of Children and Youth in Homeless Situations: Access to Higher Education
This document provides answers to the most frequently asked questions on access to higher education for youth in homeless situations. It is an excerpt from “The Most Frequently Asked Questions on the Education Rights of Children in Homeless Situations."  September 2016.

Who Can Make a Determination of Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Status?
This NAEHCY tip sheet lists the four groups of professionals authorized to make a determination that a student meets the definition of an unaccompanied homeless youth or is a self-supporting youth at risk of becoming homeless for filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Documentation of Independent Student Status for the FAFSA
This template provides local homeless education liaisons, HUD-funded shelter representatives, and RHYA-funded shelter representatives with a sample template to provide a determination of a student's status as an unaccompanied homeless youth for the purpose of applying for federal financial aid for higher education using the FAFSA.

Making Student Status Determinations for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth: Eligibility Tool for Financial Aid Administrators
This form, developed collaboratively by NAEHCY and the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE), is to be completed by a college financial aid administrator (FAA) who is evaluating a student’s eligibility for independent student status. It provides guidance to assist FAAs in making a determination in cases where a student, seeking independent student status as an unaccompanied homeless youth, comes to the attention of a FAA and a prior status determination by a local liaison or shelter is unavailable.

FAFSA Tips for Unaccompanied Youth Without Stable Housing
This tip sheet provides a step-by-step guide to unaccompanied youth for filling out questions that refer to their status as an unaccompanied youth without stable housing. Guidance is given for filling out the online or paper version of the FAFSA. A list of additional resources is also included.

FAFSA Victories for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth
In July 2016, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it will make two substantial changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to better support unaccompanied homeless youth. First, beginning with the 2017-18 application that comes online this fall, the Department will change the text on the FAFSA on the web to be more supportive of unaccompanied homeless youth. Second, for the 2018-19 application, the Department will remove the definition of “youth.” This change will allow unaccompanied 22- and 23-year-old applicants to indicate that they are homeless or at risk of being homeless. Read more.

October 1 FAFSA Date Could Help More Homeless Youth Apply for Financial Aid
the 2017-18 academic year, students will be able to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on October 1, 2016. Read more about why this change is extremely important for homeless youth. Read more.

Recent Federal Resources

Read a July 29, 2015 Dear Colleague letter from the U.S. Department of Education clarifying determinations for unaccompanied homeless youth for financial aid. The letter provides guidance for financial aid administrators on the definition of homelessness, how to make determinations, and documentation. It revises USED policy so that all applicants under age 24, including those who are 22 or 23 years old, and who are unaccompanied and homeless, or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless, qualify for a homeless youth determination and will be considered independent students.

Additional NAEHCY Resources

NAEHCY Higher Education Helpline

(855) 446-2673 (toll-free); or; or text "NAEHCY" to 335577
The NAEHCY Higher Education Helpline provides assistance with issues related to students experiencing homelessness accessing higher education.

NAEHCY Higher Education Podcasts
NAEHCY Higher Education Podcasts provide succinct and readily accessible information about topics related to college access and success for young people experiencing homelessness.

Avoiding Common FAFSA Errors
This NAEHCY tip sheet lists the most common errors many students, including homeless students and students coming out of foster care, make when completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). These errors stop the processing of the FAFSA and delay the disbursement of funds students need to pay college expenses. The tip sheet also provides suggestions for avoiding these mistakes.

College Access and Success for Students Experiencing Homelessness: A Toolkit for Educators and Service Providers
This toolkit serves as a comprehensive resource on the issue of higher education access and success for homeless students, including information on understanding homeless students, assisting homeless students in choosing a school, helping homeless students pay for application-related expenses, assisting homeless students in finding financial aid and scholarships for school, and helping homeless students succeed in college.

College Access and Success for Students Experiencing Homelessness: The Web Series
This NAEHCY Web Series presents highlights from NAEHCY's College Access and Success for Students Experiencing Homelessness: A Toolkit for Educators and Service Providers in a web-based, clickable format with links to related resources when additional information is desired. Chapters include:
1 | Introduction and Context
2 | Assisting Youth Experiencing Homelessness in Choosing a College
3 | Fee Waivers for College Application-related Expenses
4 | Federal Financial Aid
5 | Beyond Federal Aid
6 | Supporting Student Success in College

Dependency Status Appeal Frequently Asked Questions
This NAEHCY tip sheet answers the following questions about FAFSA dependency status appeals: What is a dependency status appeal?; Who can request a dependency status appeal?; How do I complete FAFSA if I am unaccompanied and homeless, but no longer a youth?; Do I need to complete the FAFSA before submitting my dependency status appeal?; What documentation do I need to submit with my dependency status appeal?; and, What documentation do I need to submit with my dependency status appeal?

Financial Aid for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth: A Survey Report
This report summarizes the results of a 2012 survey conducted by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) in partnership with the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA). The survey, which received over 900 responses, gathered information about the ease with which unaccompanied homeless youth are able to access federal financial aid. The survey results highlight the level of awareness of provisions of federal law related to college access for unaccompanied homeless youth and areas where barriers continue to exist to students’ ability to access the financial resources needed to pursue their postsecondary educational goals. Based on an analysis of survey results, NAEHCY provides policy and practice recommendations to support higher education access and success for unaccompanied homeless youth.

Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Tip Sheet for Higher Education McKinney-Vento Single Points of Contact (SPOCs)
This NAEHCY tip sheet provides specific strategies and recommendations for how higher education SPOCs can support unaccompanied homeless youth in obtaining a college education and moving towards a stable future.

What is College Goal Sunday?
Need help paying for college?  Financial aid can make college a reality. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also referred to as the FAFSA, can help you find funding to pursue your educational goals. The FAFSA is the first step in applying for financial aid and must be completed annually. Filling out the FAFSA can seem like a daunting task.  However, help is available through the College Goal Sunday program.  It is a state-based volunteer program that provides volunteers to work with students to complete the application.  Events are usually held in late January or February. At the event, you will get personalized FAFSA completion assistance and learn more about financial aid resources. To find College Goal Sunday dates and locations for your state, go to  If you cannot attend the College Goal Sunday event, contact the financial aid office at a college near you for further assistance in completing your FAFSA. If you are still in high school, contact your guidance counselor. For additional information, go to You can contact our toll-free Higher Education hotline any time at (855) 446-2673 with questions.

Home for the Holidays 2015
Archived 2015 Home for the Holidays campaign materials designed to raise awareness and inspire action to help homeless and foster youth during academic breaks.

Best Practices

NAEHCY has collected the following higher education best practices. We encourage you to use them to help develop similar programs and/or activities at your institution or in your state.

CARE Program
Florida College System Homeless Exemption
Food and Housing Needs Survey
GMU Student Meal Assistance Fund
Housing Homeless Students on Breaks
Indiana State University Housing Jobs and Tuition for Homeless Students
Maryland Homeless Youth College Exemption
MSU Food Bank

Other Resources

National Center for Homeless Education
The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) serves as the information and technical assistance center for the U.S. Department of Education's Education for Homeless Children and Youth program.
Visit NCHE's Higher Education resource webpage

NAEHCY 2018 Conference
Anaheim, CA
October 27-30, 2018
The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015
Homeless Students in ESEA Reauthorization
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