Opportunity Faculty Fellows: Many students struggle to afford housing. How does that impact them?

Even as community colleges offer students a gateway of opportunity, many struggle to afford another critical aspect of their education: Housing. 

The issue is of concern for UNC Charlotte. Professor George Shaw said half of the university’s transfer students matriculated from either Central Piedmont Community College or Gaston College. 

Shaw, who has also studied food and nutrition insecurity, said that when students don’t know where they’re going to sleep or where their next meal will come from, their academics suffer. That can be a particular burden for community college students, who are more likely to be first-generation students, veterans and other groups that face financial or cultural hurdles to getting their education. 

“It really makes it difficult for students to perform at the opitmal level,” said Shaw.

He plans to used a mixed-methods research approach to gain insight into the problem locally. Using social media, Shaw will survey students at Central Piedmont Community College and Gaston College about their experiences with housing instability. The results will be analyzed using regression techniques, and some participants will be selected for semi-structured interviews. 

By tapping into social media, Shaw hopes to recruit students for the survey where they are already accustomed to gathering online. He plans to investigate not just what conditions they face, but how students perceive those conditions to impact their academic performance and lives more broadly.

“One thing I wanted to do is bring voice to the numbers,” said Shaw.

Interviews about their experiences will be transcribed and analyzed using qualitative and quantitative methods.

“There hasn’t been a lot of discussion about how we provide additional housing support to students,” said Shaw. “My No. 1 hope is there would be more conversations between UNC Charlotte and the community colleges about what housing issues are people facing.”

- By Ely Portillo