The value of a college degree is undisputed. A 2010 report from the College Board estimates that, among full-time workers, high school graduates earned a median annual income of $33,800; workers with an associate’s degree, $42,000; and, workers with a bachelor’s degree, $55,700.

Chapter 1 | Introduction and Context

The information included on this webpage was excerpted from Chapter 1 of College Access and Success for Students Experiencing Homelessness: A Toolkit for Educators and Service Providers, available in its entirety at

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challenges thought bubbleChapter 1, Part 3 | Barriers to College Access and Success
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The educational barriers faced by homeless students are not limited to kindergarten through high school. High school graduates experiencing homelessness may encounter significant roadblocks should they wish to continue on to higher education.

Many high school graduates in homeless situations have not had anyone to serve as a mentor and role model in the area of education. Few, if any, people in their lives have helped them prepare for college or encouraged them to consider it as a realistic option for their path towards adulthood and financial independence. Despite this, many homeless youth wish to continue on to higher education and set out to take the steps necessary to make this happen. According to The Path to Success: Creating Campus Support Systems for Foster and Homeless Students, published in the Summer 2012 edition of Leadership Exchange, college-bound homeless youth are likely to encounter these and other barriers along the way (Emerson, Duffield, Salazar, & Unrau, 2012):

  • lack of support from an adult who has the experience and knowledge needed to provide assistance in the college search and application process;
  • difficulty paying fees for Advanced Placement (AP) exams, college entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT, and college applications;
  • difficulty completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); this is particularly true for UHY, who may be unable to access information about their parents’ income and assets or get a parent signature;
  • a financial aid package that is insufficient to meet their financial need;
  • difficulty paying housing deposits and other expenses that may be due before financial aid funds become available; and
  • lack of information about various supports that may be available to them, including college advising from a high school counselor, private scholarships, state-specific opportunities for homeless students, and the Education Training Voucher (ETV) program for foster youth.

The Path to Success: Creating Campus Support Systems for Foster and Homeless Students also explains that once enrolled in college, students experiencing homelessness often continue to face challenges in reaching graduation, including:

  • continued lack of support from a helpful, caring adult;
  • struggles with mental health issues related to the distress caused by homelessness; and, for UHY, often a history of physical, sexual, or mental abuse;
  • insufficient support with developing solid study skills, securing stable housing and reliable transportation, and deciding on a college major or potential career path; and
  • difficulty balancing the demands of schoolwork, the need to work to pay bills, and other responsibilities.

Without much-needed support, youth experiencing homelessness may be unable to surmount the barriers and persist through to college graduation, seeing their dreams of a college degree, professional advancement, and financial stability fall by the wayside. Fortunately, as detailed throughout this web series and College Access and Success: A Toolkit for Educators and Service Providers, resources exist to ensure that college-bound homeless youth are not only able to enroll in college, but receive needed supports along to way to ensure that they reach degree completion successfully.

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The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015
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