CSULB associate professor inspires $15 million CSU grant to combat student food, housing insecurity

Published November 29, 2021

Nearly 40% of students in the California State University system experience food insecurity, skipping meals so they can pay for books or rent. 

Roughly 11% of the students experience homelessness at least once a year, moving from place to place, sometimes living in their cars, in parks or shelters.

Those numbers are not decreasing, given the rising cost of food and housing in the area, and the reason Dr. Rashida Crutchfield continues to push for funding to further study the kinds of barriers college students face when food and housing are scarce. 

The Cal State Long Beach associate professor of social work’s continued dedication to solving the housing and food insecurity crisis in California colleges recently was rewarded by state legislators, who gave the entire CSU system a recurring $15 million for the Basic Needs Initiative component of Graduation Initiative 2025 to help bridge the gap for students. CSULB’s Student Emergency Intervention and Wellness Program, Basic Needs and Beach Pantry, is slated to receive $1.2 million annually.

It’s surprising to us as a society because there are presumptions about people who experience homelessness and what you need for college. They think that because if you’re in college, you’re doing OK.

But college students, her years-long research has shown, are not always doing well. Barriers to graduation exist when you fail to have adequate meals or an address, which is what has fueled her passion for finding the data needed for funding. 

“I think a lot of campuses, including Long Beach, are depending on onetime funds that might come next year or might not come next year, depending on the winds of philanthropy and you can’t build infrastructure if you don’t know if there will be money,” she said. 

Crutchfield said while the funds from the state will make a difference in students’ lives, that money will fund the research and data needed to better understand the housing and food situation. 

To help build the infrastructure, Crutchfield, with the help of seed money awarded from the CSU in 2019, is heading the newly created on-campus Center for Equitable Higher Education (CEHE), which will seek to advance education through research and evaluation for economic, food and housing. CEHE will investigate equity gaps through research and use that data to ensure students’ needs are met. 

In addition to securing grants and contracts, Crutchfield received seed money from the CSU in 2019 to get CEHE moving the critical research. 

One of the key projects of the Center is an evaluation of College Focused Rapid Rehousing, a program that is currently implemented at eight CSUs and Cerritos and Long Beach community colleges to address student homelessness as a long-term commitment. The program is funded by foundational grants. will look to understand the differences these programs make in the lives of students and their implications as a model for other higher educational ecosystems nationwide. 

The evaluation grants are funded by the Kresge Foundation, Walter S. Johnson Foundation, The California Wellness Foundation, Kaiser Permanente National Community Health and Angell Foundation. 

Crutchfield and Jessica Wolin of San Francisco State will serve as co-principal investigators and will work collaboratively with CSU and community college faculty, staff and community partners to coordinate evaluations.  

“We hope to let the program folks get the students into housing and see what’s effective,” Crutchfield said. “Then we can take that data and go to the legislators and say, ‘This is what we’ve learned, and if its working, this is why we need a continued investment in these programs.’"

Crutchfield’s research led to the development of the CSU Basic Needs Initiative in 2019 and she co-authored a book, “Addressing Homelessness and Housing Insecurity in Higher Education: Strategies for Educational Leaders” with Jennifer Maguire, a professor at Humboldt State, and Ronald Hallet, a research associate in the Center of Higher Education Policy Analysis at USC. 

She is hoping her latest research leads to more solutions to solving the housing the food insecurity needs of students nationwide.