A college degree is often a path out of poverty. But the people who struggle most to afford college in Oregon? Black and Indigenous students.

A 2019 Oregon survey asked community college students across the state about their financial situations, and it found disparities in food and housing access. It revealed that 50% of Black students face food insecurity while 61% experienced housing insecurity.

For white students, those numbers were among the lowest of any racial demographic, with 41% reporting food insecurity and 51% responding that their housing was unstable.

In a 2020 Portland State University survey, white students were the most food-secure demographic, with 42.8% reporting insecurity about where their next meal was coming from, compared with 55.7% of Black PSU students.

WW previously reported in this series how a failure to meet basic human needs can contribute to poor achievement, which also applies to college students. If an individual is facing poverty—and Black people face it at higher rates than other racial demographics—their chances of success dwindle.

Venus Barnes, SNAP outreach coordinator with the nonprofit Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, says these disparities stem from deeply rooted white supremacy within the system, particularly in Oregon.

"It shows that Oregon doesn't really care about their fellow Oregonians' humanity. It breaks us down as a society," Barnes says. "Oregon is losing talent, losing innovation, losing money. If we were going to look at this from a financial point of view, integration and diversity only enhances and advances and excels a culture."

Chris Baker, community advocacy manager for Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, says students who work and attend school full time yet still struggle to make ends meet will reach a burnout point. The coronavirus has only made matters worse.

"I think the numbers are going to be exacerbated measurably because of the pandemic," Baker says. "There are so many students that haven't had access to SNAP benefits and can't make rent and have to supplement their time and energy. All of the data nationally can be matched to local data. It's a trend."

Both Barnes and Baker say the available data for food and housing insecurity among college students is fragmented, making it more challenging to find a solution.

"It's a tragic event that we just willfully sit by and allow students to fall through the cracks and then not create policies to help," Barnes says. "Society cannot go anywhere without us. And if society does, it's at a fraction of movement compared to a thriving, diverse culture."

This reporting has been funded in part by a grant from the Jackson Foundation. See more Black and White in Oregon stories here.