Student Hunger & Homelessness at Massachusetts Public Colleges & Universities

Research shows that many students in Massachusetts experience hunger and/or homelessness, as well as other types of basic needs insecurity that can serve as barriers to degree completion. In 2019, the DHE developed partnerships with other state agencies, campuses, and community-based organizations to create innovative solutions to student housing insecurity. In December 2020, Commissioner Santiago charged members of a Basic Needs Security Advisory Committee to make policy recommendations on how to address growing economic insecurity among students.


Basic Needs Security


2016 – Present


Student Identities

Multiple Campuses

Related Initiatives


Massachusetts is among the first states to address food and housing insecurity among college students as a matter of intentional state-level public policy. Our goal is to create a national model of evidence-informed interventions and best practices to help students move from crisis to opportunity and self-sufficiency. Working across all three segments of the public higher education system and with its sister agencies in state government, the Department of Higher Education has:

  • Partnered with The HOPE Center for College, Community and Justice to collect data on the extent of hunger and homelessness among students (2018 & 2019 surveys)
  • Partnered with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to develop a multi-campus pilot program to provide housing and community-based case management for homeless students (launched January, 2019)
  • Partnered with the Department of Housing and Community Development to open an off-campus, 11-bed living and learning community for Boston area students experiencing homelessness (launched September, 2019)
  • Partnered with the Department of Transitional Assistance to promote the availability of SNAP benefits, and with select campuses to pilot the development of SNAP EBT markets (ongoing)

Basic Needs Security Advisory Committee

The Department of Higher Education has convened a 22-member Basic Needs Security Advisory Committee to help DHE staff develop a strategic plan for addressing basic needs security among students attending Massachusetts public colleges and universities. The Committee's input and insights into basic needs security - food, housing, technology access, childcare and other essentials for student well-being - will help the DHE weigh options for moving from a series of pilot housing programs to a broader, more integrated approach to policy development.

At the direction of Massachusetts Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago, the Basic Needs Security Advisory Committee will review and assess economic barriers to retention and degree completion by students enrolled in the Commonwealth’s public higher education system, paying close attention to racial and geographical disparities evident in both qualitative and quantitative data. Recommendations should adhere and respond to both DHE’s mission and the goals of DHE’s Equity and Racial Justice agenda. The full text of the Commissioner’s charge to the group can be found here.

At its first meeting on December 11th, members looked at national data on basic needs insecurity among students, including racial disparities, and also learned about campus resources to combat hunger and homelessness. Members will meet again in January and March to formulate recommendations that will be used to develop a strategic plan for basic needs security response.

Committee Members

Pat Baker, Senior Policy Analyst | Mass Law Reform Institute
Lisa Carter, Director, Project Access | Roxbury Community College
JD Chesloff, Executive Director | The Massachusetts Business Roundtable (Member, Board of Trustees, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts)
Troy Fernandes, Housing and Education Coordinator | Wayside, Inc.
Racqucala N. Harvey, Student | Westfield State University
Deniz Leuenberger, Chief of Staff and Vice President, Strategy & Planning | Bridgewater State University
Catalina Lopez-Ospina, Director, Mayor’s Office of Food Access | City of Boston
Jacqueline Maloney, Chancellor | The University of Massachusetts at Lowell
Patricia Marshall, Deputy Commissioner for Academic Affairs and Student Success | Massachusetts Department of Higher Education
Clantha McCurdy, Senior Deputy Commissioner for Access and Student Financial Assistance | Massachusetts Department of Higher Education
Joan Meschino, State Representative (D-Hull) | 191st General Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Niki Nguyen, Student Trustee | Bunker Hill Community College (Member, Massachusetts Student Advisory Council)
Matt Noyes, Director, Trustee & Government Relations | Massachusetts Department of Higher Education
Kathleen O’Neill, Director, Single Stop | Bunker Hill Community College
Judy Pagliuca, Managing Partner | Pagsgroup (Member, Massachusetts Board of Higher Education)
Valerie Paric, Director | One Family, Inc.
Luis Pedraja, President | Quinsigamond Community College
Gia Plata-Nino, Staff Attorney | Central West Justice Center
Christina Royal, President | Holyoke Community College
Lourdes Soto, Chief of Parent & Community Engagement | Springfield Public Schools
Linn Torto, Executive Director, Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness | Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Andy Vargas, State Representative (D-Haverhill) | 191st General Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts

The SPOC Fellowship Program - Suspended

The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s Basic Needs Security Team is offering its inaugural Single Point of Contact (SPOC) Fellowship Program supported through the ECMC Foundation.

The SPOC Fellowship Program welcomes applications from those who identify as a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) engaged in Basic Needs Security programs or initiatives on your campus. Specifically, the profile of a well-qualified candidate for this fellowship is a person who is committed to racial equity and actively seeks to remediate and/or remove Basic Needs Security barriers that prevent our students of color from accessing higher education, persisting toward a credential of value, and engaging with a workforce pathway. Prospective SPOC Fellowship applicants have a demonstrated commitment to DHE’s values of equity, accountability, community, empowerment, intentionality, and teamwork. The SPOC Fellowship can be awarded to up to six (6) Fellows. The expected time commitment is 16-hours a month for 18-months. Each Fellow will receive a total stipend of $7,500.

Selected BNS SPOC Fellows will leverage their expertise in the following ways:

  • Serving as a Single Point of Contact expert coach to one state participating in DHE’s Basic Needs Security State Technical Assistance Program (BNS TAP)
  • Participating in Basic Needs Security state-level team-based projects and case studies, visit other campuses, and attend national or local conferences.
  • Observing, participating, and evaluating policy and discussions from DHE’s racial equity perspective.

As your campus community continues to partner with the DHE in its journey to understand and engage with our Strategic Plan for Racial Equity and Student Success Framework, our Single Point of Contact (SPOC) Fellowship opportunity offers another occasion for meaningful engagement and leadership.

The SPOC Fellowship application due date is from April 14 to April 21.

BNS Programs

The Massachusetts Student Housing Security Pilot, funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth, began at four residential campuses in January 2019 and has since grown to include campuses in six regions:

  • South Coast: Bridgewater State University & Massasoit Community College
  • MetroWest: Framingham State University & MassBay Community College
  • Central Mass: Worcester State University & Quinsigamond Community College
  • Merrimack Valley: UMass Lowell & Middlesex Community College
  • Western MA: Westfield State University & Holyoke Community College
  • North Shore: Salem State University & North Shore Community College

Each of the four-year institutions, in partnership with a local community college, has made up to five beds available to students identified by campus staff as experiencing homelessness (defined as lacking an appropriate place to live, often residing in a shelter, automobile, abandoned building or outside). Campuses are being reimbursed by the state for the cost of the dorm bed occupancy for a full calendar year, including all summer and semester breaks. Campuses have agreed to cover meals and snacks for students. Community service providers, receiving additional grant funding from the Massachusetts Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth, work with pilot participants in each region to provide counseling, financial literacy, and support for the search for permanent affordable housing after graduation. The pilot will be rigorously evaluated for measures of effectiveness regarding student well-being, retention and college completion.

Student Eligibility & Requirements

Students must be:

  • Enrolled full-time in a public college or university participating in the pilot
  • Degree-seeking and in good academic standing as defined by home institution
  • Age 25 or younger
  • Referred by campus staff or community service provider, or self-applied

2019 Basic Needs Insecurity in MA Public Higher Ed Institutions Survey

In 2019, 13 Massachusetts public colleges and universities participated in an annual, national survey of student basic needs security administered by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University (formerly the HOPE Lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison). An aggregated view of individual campus results suggests little to no change in the percentages of Massachusetts students experiencing food or housing insecurity, while the percentage of students experiencing homelessness increased from 11.5% in 2018 to 17% in 2019.

“[We see] more students asking for emergency loans to pay living expenses and students trying to opt out of the meal plans to save money on their overall University bill.”

–University of Massachusetts Amherst Campus Official, 2016 Campus Survey

2018 Basics Needs Insecurity in MA Public Higher Ed Institutions Study

On May 11, 2018, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab jointly released the results of the first state-level study of food and housing insecurity and homelessness among college students. Massachusetts is the first state to team with HOPE Lab Founder Sara Goldrick-Rab and her team to look at these issues from a system level, with the goal of having the data inform policy interventions. As the Massachusetts report indicates, the state's results closely mirror the findings of a national HOPE Lab study, with a few critical exceptions, particularly in food and housing security between Hispanic students and non-Hispanic white students, where the differences were more pronounced than in the national sample.

Student Experiences

44% of community college students reported some degree of food insecurity
Student Hunger & Homelessness at Massachusetts Public Colleges & Universities

At a time when private colleges have been luring students with sushi bars, fresh-tossed salads, and other increasingly lavish meals, Susan Benitez, 30, an Army veteran and student government president at Bunker Hill Community College, said the problem of housing and food insecurity is more widespread than many realize.

“There are days where I can’t even afford to buy a chip . . . and I know I can go up there [to the food pantry] to get bread,” said Benitez, who is graduating with two associate’s degrees and was just accepted to Stanford.

“You can’t study if you are hungry.”

24 out of 29 campuses
are aware of students
who are homeless

Most colleges said they have students living in shelters, cars, or on their friends' couches, and some described students living in coffee shops and fast-food restaurants, or outside in warmer weather.

“Quite frankly, it’s heartbreaking to know the kind of challenges they’re facing, and they still come to school, and they still try to succeed,” Patricia Gentile, president of North Shore Community College, told The Boston Globe.

students walk into the front doors of bunker hill community college

Campus Response & Resources

Students: If you are looking for help but your school isn't listed, contact your campus' office of student services for more information.

Statewide Programs

Department of Health and Human Services
Find free and affordable food and housing options near you.

Massachusetts 2-1-1
Dial 2-1-1 or visit the website to get connected with a variety of vital resources in your community 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
1-877-211-MASS (6277)
508-370-4890 TTY

Campus Programs

Community College Resources

Bristol Community College
Mobile Food Market

Bunker Hill Community College
Single Stop

Cape Cod Community College
Family Pantry at Cape Cod CC

Greenfield Community College
GCC Food Pantry

Holyoke Community College
Thrive Center

Mass Bay Community College
Student Nourishment & Care Committee

Massasoit Community College
Massasoit Food Pantry

Middlesex Community College
MCC Food Pantry

Mount Wachusett Community College
MWCC Food Pantry

North Shore Community College
Emergency Resources

Northern Essex Community College
Food Pantries

Quinsigamond Community College
Food Pantry & Resources Center

Roxbury Community College
Project Access

Springfield Technical Community College
Center for Access Services

State University Resources

Bridgewater State University
Food Bank 4 U

Framingham State University
Student Resources

Salem State University
Student Advocacy

Westfield State University
Common Goods

UMass Boston

UMass Dartmouth
Arnie's Cupboard

UMass Lowell
Navigators Food Pantry