The Hope Center’s 2019 survey of 86,000 students at two- and four-year colleges found that 42% percent were food insecure, 46% were housing insecure, and 12% were homeless. All of these students will be at risk as schools close or consider closing student housing, campus food pantries, dining halls, and other on-campus resources, like counseling. Even when things return to normal, students in precarious positions may not come back to finish their educations, forever disrupting their lives. Lee, for instance, depends on a scholarship, but it only covers eight semesters, and if she falls behind, she may never finish.

“I think it’s entirely possible that two or three million of these people never come back,” says Goldrick-Rab. “They are now out of college, their debt’s going to be collected on, and they’re going to have some college and no degree. That is such an economic risk for them.”

Goldrick-Rab warns that some of the most vulnerable students are also parents or caregivers, many of whom will be left in the lurch as daycares and elementary schools across the country close. About one in five of undergraduate students are parents, according to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research analysis of the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

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