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

challenges thought bubbleChapter 1, Part 2 | Educational Challenges for Homeless Youth
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Students experiencing homelessness face numerous barriers to educational success. The overall context of poverty in which homelessness usually occurs brings with it numerous risk factors that may affect a student’s education, including poor nutrition, a lack of healthcare, unsafe or overcrowded living conditions, and a general environment of financial strain and lack. Residential instability and the resulting school mobility that often accompanies it also place homeless students at an academic disadvantage. Each time a student changes schools, she also changes peer groups, teachers, and oftentimes school curricula.

Additionally, students experiencing homelessness often face specific barriers when attempting to enroll in school, including lacking documentation normally required for enrollment, such as a birth certificate, previous school records, proof of guardianship, proof of residence, or immunization or other health records. Homeless students also may lack the funds to purchase school supplies, school uniforms, or others materials needed to participate completely in school programming. Without a quiet space and adequate materials, homeless students may find it difficult, if not impossible, to complete school assignments.

Unaccompanied homeless youth (UHY) generally face the above challenges without the benefit of a stable, supportive relationship with a parent or guardian. UHY are children and youth whose living arrangement meets the McKinney-Vento definition of homeless and who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. Couple the previously mentioned challenges with the emotional and mental strain caused by family discord and often the added pressure of needing to work to ensure financial survival, and one can appreciate the persistence and dedication that unaccompanied homeless students must demonstrate in order to succeed in school.

Given the complex interaction of challenges and barriers faced by homeless students, it is not surprising that some homeless students never graduate from high school. While official federal data on the graduation rate of homeless students currently is not available, annual reports from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) provide a state-level snapshot and show consistently a lower on-time graduation rate for homeless students than for students overall. The state-level cohort report for the Class of 2013 shows a 70% on-time high school graduation rate of students who experienced homelessness at any time during high school, as compared to an 80.3% rate for students who were economically disadvantaged at any time during high school, and an 89.1% rate for all students. Graduation rates from other states, including Colorado and Indiana, demonstrate similar trends.

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web series navigationUp Next: Part 3 | Barriers to College Access and Success

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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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