Basic Needs Insecurity in the Higher Education Instructional Workforce

November 16, 2020

Today, researchers at The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice released a new report summarizing the results of a pilot survey examining basic needs insecurity among instructors at five colleges and universities in fall 2019. The results show that 38 percent of nearly 550 respondents were experiencing food or housing insecurity before the current pandemic struck.

“The #RealCollege Faculty & Staff Survey affirmed what many faculty members around the country have been saying: they are having real trouble making ends meet. Professors are humans first, just like their students, and their working conditions are student learning conditions,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, The Hope Center’s founder and president, and professor of sociology and medicine at Temple University.

The pilot survey included instructional staff from five institutions that also participated in the fall 2019 #RealCollege Student Survey, as the report compares basic needs insecurity among students and educators at the same location. The five institutions are: Compton College (California), Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (Virginia), Massasoit Community College (Massachusetts), Metropolitan State University of Denver (Colorado), and North Lake College (Texas).

The Basic Needs Insecurity in Higher Education Instructional Workforce report indicates that many instructional staff experience precarious economic situations. The survey found:

  • 38% of respondents experienced some form of basic needs insecurity in 2019.
    • 17% of respondents experienced food insecurity in the prior 30 days.
    • 33% of respondents experienced housing insecurity in the previous year.
    • 8% of respondents experienced homelessness in the previous year.
  • Rates of basic needs insecurity among instructional staff is prevalent but lower than for students at the same institutions.
  • Educators of color, LGBTQ educators, younger educators, part-time educators, and those earning relatively low incomes experienced disproportionately high rates of food and housing insecurity.
  • 43% of part-time educators experiencing basic needs insecurity utilized public benefits.
  • Educators carrying high debt loads, working more than one job, or working more than 60 hours a week had high rates of basic needs insecurity.
  • 45% of educators experiencing basic needs insecurity reported at least a moderate level of anxiety.

The Hope Center’s previous research has focused on the basic needs insecurity among college students, finding that rates of food and housing insecurity, as well as homelessness, are high for elementary and secondary students, and continue to be high once students enter college. Much less attention has been paid to the challenges created by basic needs insecurity for educators—the people who teach and support students.

Since the pilot survey was fielded, the coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives of students and educators at colleges and universities nationwide. The Hope Center’s most recent report on students (released in June 2020) suggests that basic needs insecurity is increasing as institutions remain closed or operating at limited capacity due to the pandemic. Further, we strongly suspect that because of institutional budget cuts and household budgetary pressures, the living conditions of teaching staff are still declining.

In the #RealCollege movement, which marks its fifth anniversary on Dec. 4, “students are humans first.” Institutions must pay attention to the basic needs of everyone on campus, not only students. Such attention is critical to diversity, equity, and inclusion—commitments many colleges and universities profess to have made or to believe are essential to their academic missions. Furthermore, providing additional support for educators will not only help them succeed in their roles, but help students succeed as well.

The report is authored by The Hope Center’s Director of Research Vanessa Coca, Goldrick-Rab, Senior Research Fellow Gregory Kienzl and Research Associate Brianna Richardson of College Pulse.