The moment when a student learns they’ve been accepted into college, especially one on their shortlist, can be filled with excitement and pride. Those emotions can soon shift to frustration and panic when they ask, “Where will I live?”
Across the U.S., student housing availability and cost continue to move in opposite directions. According to a 2022 survey by StudentBeans, about one-fifth of U.S. students have experienced housing insecurity, which makes them “twice as likely to want to drop out of college.”
Traditional universities and colleges have not been able to keep up with the demand for on-campus housing, and communities cannot totally fill the gap, with limited off-campus housing increasing rental costs.
While nearly 45% of U.S. students live with their parents, an option not universally available, too many students resort to long commutes, substandard housing conditions, couch surfing or even sleeping in their car. Over 200,000 students across America consider themselves homeless. This crisis disproportionately affects low-income, minority and LGBTQ+ students, threatening their ability to pursue higher education and fulfill their dreams and limiting the traditional higher education pathway.
Amid this challenge, many students are looking beyond traditional location-based schooling to consider online, hybrid and non-linear university education. Major online accredited universities, which adhere to the highest educational standards today, allow students to earn a college education wherever they live.
Providing access, convenience and affordability, online education alleviates student parking concerns, local traffic and carbon emissions, and the stress of in-person education. Giving learners flexibility while pursuing a degree benefits the nearly 77% of U.S. graduate students over 25 years old, with half being parents.
While government, academia and the private sector continue to seek solutions to the chronic student housing shortage, online education can serve as another viable pathway that can lead to better and more equitable outcomes for students.
Rick Benbow is regional vice president of the nonprofit Western Governors University.