Homeless Youth and Student Aid

Unaccompanied homeless youth are still facing barriers that block their access to federal student financial aid funds, despite legislative initiatives to streamline their eligibility for college aid.

Unaccompanied homeless youth are defined as young persons under age 21 who lack safe, stable housing, who are not in the care of their parents and who might live in a variety of temporary situations, including shelters, the homes of friends or relatives, cars, campgrounds, public parks, abandoned buildings, motels and bus or train stations.

Congress passed legislation in 2007 and 2008, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-84) and the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-315), that improves college access for unaccompanied homeless youth by making this group of students automatically independent.

The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) conducted a survey in 2012 about student aid for unaccompanied homeless youth, in partnership with the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA). In July 2014, the two associations issued a joint report, Financial Aid for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth, based on 900 survey responses from college access professionals, service providers, public school employees (including school district liaisons) and college financial aid administrators.

The survey demonstrated a disconnect between the perceptions of college financial aid administrators and other advocates for unaccompanied and homeless youth. A significant number of survey respondents, not including the financial aid administrator respondents, identified college financial aid office practices as presenting obstacles to student aid for unaccompanied and homeless youth. These include:

  • Distrust of and hostility toward unaccompanied homeless youth by financial aid offices
  • Lack of understanding of statutory requirements on the part of financial aid administrators
  • Unreasonable annual documentation requirements
  • A lack of a standardized appeal process by many financial aid offices

Other problems identified by the survey include:

  • Limited oversight by the U.S. Department of Education of how college aid administrators implement policies for unaccompanied homeless youth
  • A limited number of entities which can determine if a student meets the definition of an unaccompanied homeless youth
  • An unclear and age-restrictive definition of “youth”
  • A lack of identified contacts at the U.S. Department of Education to resolve questions and interpretation of regulations governing financial aid for unaccompanied homeless youth

The report recommends more cooperative efforts and cross-training of student aid administrators and professionals who work with homeless individuals and families. The report also recommends changing the definition of “youth” to include young people under age 24, eliminating annual re-determination requirements, expanding the set of entities that can verify a student’s status to include TRIO and GEAR UP programs, and establishing a standardized mandatory appeals process.