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Even Before the Pandemic, Many Faculty Faced Food Insecurity, Housing Insecurity, or Homelessness

Nearly four in ten faculty faced some form of basic needs insecurity over the previous year

November 1, 2020

Earlier this year, as COVID-19 upended higher education and caused widespread concerns about health and financial stability, a survey from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice found that more than half of students faced basic needs insecurity (food insecurity, housing insecurity, or homelessness). But the Hope Center’s newest report on Basic Needs Insecurity in the Higher Education Instructional Workforce—based on a survey conducted in fall 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic—finds that nearly four in ten faculty faced some form of basic needs insecurity over the previous year.

With responses from almost 550 instructional staff members from four community colleges and one university, the report’s findings, summarized below, highlight troubling evidence that some groups of educators—especially faculty of color, LGBT faculty, younger faculty, and faculty who are new to their institution or teach part-time—were disproportionately affected by food insecurity, housing insecurity, and homelessness.

The data from the Hope Center adds to research from the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, an initiative of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California in partnership with AAC&U, that has detailed how working conditions, financial stressors, and an over-reliance on non-tenured faculty affects the well-being of faculty and the success of their students. Two recent case studies show how the 2020 Delphi Award winners, Louisiana State University and Northcentral University, have improved working conditions and professional development for adjunct faculty on their campuses.

Figure 1.

More Than a Third of Instructors Face Housing or Food Insecurity

  • Overall, 38 percent of faculty experienced insecurity of some kind, though faculty were less likely to experience basic needs insecurity than students at their same institution (see figure 2).
  • One-third (33 percent) experienced housing insecurity, which included having “a rent or mortgage increase that made it difficult to pay,” not being able to pay for all of their utilities, or not having enough to pay all of their rent or mortgage, among other difficulties.
  • While just 2 percent of respondents said they were homeless, 8 percent experienced homelessness, which often included staying with a family member or friend, couch surfing, or staying in an RV.
  • In the month before the survey was administered, 11 percent of faculty experienced low food security and 6 percent had very low food security, while another 8 percent had marginal food security.
  • Many faculty were worried about being able to afford more food before running out or having enough money to eat balanced meals. Others “cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there was not enough money for food,” the report said.

Figure 2.

Basic Needs Insecurity Disproportionately Affects Faculty of Color, LGBT Faculty, and Younger Faculty

  • Faculty identifying as Asian/Pacific Islander or Black were most likely to experience housing insecurity (49 and 46 percent, respectively), while faculty identifying as Hispanic were most likely to experience food insecurity (22 percent).
  • However, faculty identifying with a race or ethnicity that the report grouped as “Other” (which could include faculty identifying as Indigenous, American Indian, Alaska Native, Middle Eastern, North African, Arab, or other responses) were by far the most likely to experience housing insecurity (52 percent), food insecurity (41 percent), and homelessness (21 percent).
  • Faculty identifying as LGBT were more likely than non-LGBT faculty to say they experienced food insecurity (a fifteen-percentage-point difference) or housing insecurity (a fourteen-percentage-point difference) than faculty who don’t identify as LGBT.
  • Younger faculty were also disproportionately affected. Faculty born after 1980 were much more likely than older faculty members to experience basic needs insecurity, with nearly half experiencing some form of housing insecurity (see figure 3).

Figure 3.

Newer Faculty, Younger Faculty, and Nontenured Faculty Face More Needs Insecurity

  • Part-time faculty were more likely than full-time colleagues to experience food insecurity (a five-percentage-point gap), housing insecurity (a ten-percentage-point gap), or homelessness (a four-percentage-point gap).
  • In general, the longer a faculty member had worked at an institution or within the higher education field, the more likely he or she felt secure in their basic needs (see figure 3).
  • Faculty who had been at their institutions less than a year were more than four times as likely to face food insecurity and more than twice as likely to face housing insecurity or homelessness as faculty who had been there more than a decade.
  • A similar trend held for faculty who had worked in higher education for fewer than five years when compared with those who had more than twenty years of experience.
  • Faculty who were on the tenured track but not yet tenured faced nearly double the rate of food insecurity (31 percent) as tenured faculty (14 percent) or instructors off the tenure track (16 percent). These faculty were also much more likely to face housing insecurity (44 percent) than tenured faculty (23 percent) or faculty off the tenure track (34 percent).

Figure 4.

Needs Insecurity Is Connected to Debt, Working Conditions, and Mental Health

  • As the nation’s student loan crisis continues to intensify, the survey found that faculty with student loan or credit card debt were much more likely than faculty without debt to face food insecurity (23 percent compared with 5 percent) or housing insecurity (40 percent compared with 19 percent).
  • The results also showed that difficult working conditions are correlated with needs insecurity. The majority (61 percent) of survey respondents worked at more than one job. Faculty working three or more jobs, working more than sixty hours a week, or who felt they were “underemployed” were much more likely than other faculty to experience needs insecurity.
  • Mental health issues were also connected to needs insecurity. More than a quarter (27 percent) of respondents experienced moderate or severe anxiety. “Not surprisingly,” the report says, “educators experiencing basic needs insecurity also experience higher levels of moderate and severe anxiety than their colleagues whose basic needs are secure.”

Unless otherwise cited, images included in this article are included by permission ofthe Hope Center for College, Community, and Justicefrom Vanessa Coca, Gregory Kienzl, Sara Goldrick-Rab, and Brianna Richardson,Basic Needs Insecurity in the Higher Education Instructional Workforce, 2020.