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Statewide Postsecondary Basic Needs Survey

Half of Washington college students report experiencing basic needs insecurity, with over 10 percent having experienced homelessness

January 19, 2023
Olympia—About half of Washington college students report experiencing food insecurity, housing insecurity or homelessness, according to a new survey and report by Western Washington University and the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC).

In fall 2022, over 9,700 students from 39 colleges and universities across Washington State participated in the first-ever statewide postsecondary basic needs survey. Key findings show stark challenges for many Washington students:

  • Nearly 4 in 10 students surveyed (38.3%) reported experiencing food insecurity in the last 30 days. 
  • Over a third (34.2%) reported experiencing housing insecurity in the last 12 months, with more than 1 in 10 (11.3%) having experienced homelessness.

“This is the first state-level report on the prevalence of basic needs insecurity of college and university students in Washington, and likely in the nation,” said Ami Magisos, Associate Director of Policy and Planning at WSAC. “It aligns with national research, showing that Washington students are experiencing significant levels of food and housing insecurity, homelessness, and other unmet needs.”

The survey results are not surprising to Tamarack Randall, Associate Director, Ending Poverty, at United Way of King County. “Every day at the 10 campuses where United Way of King County offers the Bridge to Finish program, we see students striving to meet their goals while struggling with the insecurity of meeting their most basic needs. Washington State needs to take steps to ensure we help these students meet these needs so they can focus on learning and completing their programs. Education is a pathway out of poverty, and we need to ensure it is accessible.”

The report, Basic Needs Security Among Washington College Students, also reveals the following:

  • Rates of basic needs insecurity were high across all regions in the state, from 45% in North Puget Sound to nearly 58% in South Central Washington.
  • The level of basic needs insecurity was similar at two-year colleges (50.2%) and four-year colleges (48.8%).
  • Among students experiencing basic needs insecurity, less than half had accessed basic needs support resources in the last six months: 48.9% accessed public resources, and only 33.8% accessed campus resources.
  • Some student groups are disparately impacted by basic needs insecurity:
    • American Indian/Alaska Native students and Black students reported experiencing basic needs insecurity at rates 20 percentage points higher than white students. 
    • Students formerly in foster care reported the highest rates of basic needs insecurity: 67.5% experienced food insecurity, and 23.7% experienced homelessness.

The summary and full report can be found on the WSAC website.