NPR: Homeless and in College. Then Harvey Struck


Homeless And In College. Then Harvey Struck

September 15, 20175:00 AM ET

Christina Broussard was trapped in her grandmother’s living room for three days during Hurricane Harvey. Rain poured through the ceiling in the bathrooms and bedrooms.

Broussard’s a student at Houston Community College. Her grandmother is 74 and uses a wheelchair.

“We had peanut butter, tuna, crackers, we had plenty of water,” she remembers. “We were hungry, but we managed. We tried to make light jokes about it — we said we were on a fast.” And to pass the time? “We prayed.”

It’s estimated that nearly a third of all Texas college students, or half a million, were affected in some way by Harvey. Houston Community College alone has about 70,000 students.


Houston Students Are Heading Back — What They Find Could Change Schools Nationwide


National Survey Shows High Rates Of Hungry And Homeless Community College Students

Some of those students are especially vulnerable. Even before the disaster, they were struggling to afford the basics: housing, food, childcare and transportation.

A national survey released last year showed that one-third of community college students sometimes go hungry and 14 percent are homeless. Frances Villagran-Glover, an associate vice chancellor at Houston Community College, says their numbers are similar.

“And then you have the housing insecure,” she adds, such as those doubled up with friends and family. “Which is even more of a staggering number.”

For these students, even a small setback, like a car repair, can cause them to drop out. Never mind the disruption of a major disaster which destroyed tens of thousands of homes and cars and laid waste to daily routines. But colleges are learning that they can play a stronger role in removing these kinds of obstacles from students’ paths to graduation. And Harvey has been a catalyst to increase these efforts at area colleges like HCC.

Christina Broussard just turned 33. Three years ago, around the time she first went back to school, she lost custody of her two daughters, because, she says, she couldn’t provide a “stable living environment.” While attending classes, she slept in bus shelters, or “nasty hotel rooms, when I could get $20 or $30.” She’s stayed with friends, her mother and her grandmother.

Now, she says, her grandmother’s house has been declared uninhabitable and it’s unclear whether insurance will pay for any of it. They are staying temporarily at a hotel.

But, Broussard refuses to see herself as a statistic or a charity case. She would rather talk about the performing arts degree she’s working on. Or the videos she posts on social media to, she says, “spread empowerment to women.”

Even after Harvey, she says, “We’ve lost some things, but this is not my first rodeo. I’ve learned to let go of things. I still have a positive outlook.”

Monday, Sept. 11, was the first day of class at HCC.

Jimmieka Mills, the editor-in-chief of the school paper, was 10 minutes late. She had been on the phone with FEMA for over an hour, and when they finally picked up, she says, it was only to tell her that she was denied aid for the water damage in her rental home.

Mills, 29, also has homelessness as part of her life story — in her case, as a child and teen. She’s now one class away from graduation and plans to transfer to Texas Southern University to finish her bachelor’s, before pursuing a career working in nonprofits.

Harvey’s floodwaters took out her hot water heater, but she sees herself as one of the lucky ones. “I’m definitely not one of the worst cases at all.”

‘Logistics, not academics’

The determined optimism of Mills and Broussard is shared by Mark Milliron. He’s co-founder and chief learning officer of Civitas Learning, a company based in Austin. Their data and analytics help colleges around the country get more students to graduation.

One of the surprises in their research, he says, is that across the country, most students who drop out have a C average or above. That tells Milliron that the idea of “flunking” out of college is a misnomer.

“The No. 1 reason students are leaving higher ed is logistics, not academics,” he explains. “And Harvey is one hell of a logistic.”

How can this understanding be an occasion for hope? Because a growing body of evidence shows that when colleges create emergency funds to help students with small cash grants, as little as $250, they really do help students persist and graduate. A car repair. A bursar’s bill. Backup childcare. And for Jimmieka Mills, just maybe, a new hot water heater.

In the last two weeks, Civitas has joined with a group of higher education associations, institutions, foundations and businesses to launch the Harvey HELP fund, a new crowd-sourced relief fund. The money will go to colleges to give out small cash grants to students with as little red tape as possible. A nonprofit will help vet applications.

Some colleges will be setting up this kind of fund for the first time. That could be a “teachable moment,” says Milliron. Civitas will be tracking the impact of this money. “If you can find any kind of serendipity in this crazy storm,” he says, “it’s that we can show the importance of this kind of aid for first-generation and low-income students.”

HCC has had emergency student funds before, but not on this scale, says the vice chancellor, Villagran-Glover. The college’s fund, called Swoop to the Rescue, is designed to meet immediate needs with small sums — say Uber gift cards for a student whose car was flooded. Money comes from donations to the college’s own foundation, as well as other community college systems in other states that want to help.

HCC emailed and passed out forms that students needed to have signed by instructors to get early disbursement of their financial aid, to assist in Harvey recovery. But not everyone was informed about this. Some didn’t have access to the Internet to check their email, or to printers to download the form.

Students aren’t necessarily waiting for help before they start helping others.

In the days after the storm, Mills set up an ad hoc meal and donation center in front of her local grocery store. She and her neighbors brought old clothes and meat to throw on the barbecue.

On the first day of class, she organized a meeting to share information with students affected by both Harvey and in some cases, also by the cancellation of DACA. “I tried to help forward them to an organization that can help or give them information,” she says. “But mostly it’s a space for them to feel safe and talk.”

Villagran-Glover says this kind of spirit rising across the college is another potential “silver lining” to the storm, “as horrible as it was.”

HCC has started “Eagles Helping Eagles,” a kind of mutual-aid community effort. On every campus there are drop off centers for donations. Faculty, staff, and soon students are volunteering to connect people with information, and to help other members of the community with things like cleaning up their homes.

“We’re all here to support each other, we all go through bad times,” she says. And Harvey “is putting those conversations up front to be more inclusive to everyone.”


New York State announces new scholarship for fall 2017

New York State is rolling out a new scholarship based on income and financial need.  It’s for any New Yorker, but foster youth fit the bill perfectly!

This first-of-its-kind in the nation plan will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019.

To find out more, click here.

Summer Internships – It May Not Be Too Late!

Summer time for foster students can mean moving from campus housing to a temporary residence, and a break from the structure of classes.  Students can use the summer months to build up experience for their resumes by participating in internships.  The internet offers many resources for them.  This link provides a listing of full and part time internships by geographical area within the United States.

Is your graduate looking for a job?

Ray Rogers, the Director of Career and Professional Development at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX has a concise four tip plan for college graduates as they begin their job search.  The more resources that are made available to our student graduates, the more proactive and confident they will be as they begin this next chapter.

Dealing with the Blues

There may be a conversation with a student that raises a red flag that things just aren’t right:

-they may express being trapped or having no reason to live

-something in the conversation points to acting recklessly or other behaviors that are not the norm for the student

-the student’s conversation shows signs of depression or loss of interest in school, home, friends

These characteristics are warning signs for a student who may be suicidal.  Here is a good article on identifying the warning signs:

Yeah, but what do they REALLY learn?

How effective is the typical college lecture class?

You’ll listen to your students describe their teachers and their lecture classes.  Here is an excellent NPR article on how much students actually learn from these lectures.  The author discusses the “active listening” technique that may help our students engage in their lectures and actually retain what they learn.

Jobs for NY Students!

If your student lives in one of the New York boroughs, they might be able to take advantage of a Brooklyn training program or summer job.

Encourage them to view these websites as part of their job search!


The Holidays are Almost Upon Us!

Here is an article on dealing with the holidays:  COPING WITH THE HOLIDAYS

Here is an article about holiday parties: PARTIES AND ALCOHOL

Dealing with the Election – volunteer opportunities and responsible sharing

Regardless of who your student voted for, whether their candidate won or lost, big changes are coming to our country.

Here are two good articles – the first, from Buzzfeed, offers 27 ways to engage.  The second, from the Huffington Post, talks about being well-informed and responsible sharing.




The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the gateway receiving to the Pell Grant (up to $5810 for the 2017-18 school year), work-study, and student loans. Schools and scholarships also use the information from the FAFSA when awarding need-based grants. Because these scholarships are often awarded first-come, first-served, it is important to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible every year.

What is a grant? – Money you don’t have to pay back
What is work-study? – Money you earn by working an on-campus job
What is a loan? – Money you have to pay back after you leave school

  • 2016-17 FAFSA – complete this if you are in college now or plan to start in the spring and you need financial aid for this school year.
  • 2017-18 FAFSA – complete this if you need financial aid for the next school year.
Application Opens Application Closes*
2016-17 1/1/2016 6/30/2017
2017-18 10/1/2016 6/30/2018

* Visit to find your state’s FAFSA deadline.


  • All of your financial aid is based on your FAFSA – the Pell Grant and need-based scholarships and loans. For 2016-17, the Pell Grant can be as much as $5,815. For 2017-18, it will be $5,920.
  • It’s easy, especially if you’ve done it before – it should not take longer than 20-30 minutes.
  • Most financial aid is first-come, first-served. You want to be at the head of the line, so do it now!


Gather your information

  • Your social security or alien registration number
  • Your 2015 tax return (not your biological or foster parents’) if you completed one
  • Your most recent bank statement if you have one
  • Your foster care verification document – Ask your caseworker or agency for a letter verifying your foster care involvement for financial aid. This letter should include your dates in care and any resources you receive because you were in care.
  • Your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID to enter the online application and digitally sign and submit it

To be eligible for federal financial aid, young men over the age of 18 must be registered for the Selective Service. 
To find out more, visit:

Obtain a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID

You must have an FSA ID to complete an online FAFSA. This unique user name and password will enable you to access your FAFSA now and in subsequent years, as well as other federal student aid information such as your loan balance and repayment schedule should you have one.

Creating an FSA ID is quick and easy – visit and it should take less than 10 minutes. Once you have created your ID, be SURE to keep the information someplace safe from where you will be able to retrieve it later.

Completing the FAFSA; what you need to know

Go to and log in using your FSA ID.  You will be prompted to start a new application or revise a current one, and you can select 2016-17 or 2017-18.  After that, follow the directions.

Independent Status

As a foster youth, you are considered an Independent Student. What this means, is that you do not have to submit your parents’ (or foster parents’) tax return and therefore your eligibility for federal financial aid is not based on their income.   As a foster youth, your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) is generally ZERO, unless you personally have an annual income of over $10,300 and have to file a federal tax return.

  • Questions 46-58 ask about your status. You need only one YES answer to qualify as independent. Generally, this is question 53, “At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?”

Ask your caseworker or agency to provide you with a Foster Care Letter, which should state the dates and jurisdiction of your time in care and may also list the programs (ETV, independent living services etc.) for which you are eligible.


Both the 2016-17 and the 2017-18 FAFSA ask for your 2015 tax information.

What if I didn’t file a federal tax return in 2015?

  • Ÿ  If you answer “I’m not going to file.” to Question 32, you are skipped ahead to question 39.
  • Ÿ  Question 39 – Answer with the amount you remember earning in 2015; if you earned over $10,300 as a single, independent student, you would have had to file a federal tax return.
  • Ÿ  Question 40 – Answer with information for your spouse, if you were married in 2015.
  • Ÿ  Questions 41-43 – These must be answered with information that is true for the day on which you complete the FAFSA.

What is the IRS Data Retrieval Tool?

The FAFSA is linked to the IRS, and information from your tax return can be automatically uploaded from the IRS to your FAFSA using the IRS DRT. This is the best way to make sure your information is correct, and if your FAFSA is selected for verification (see below) you will NOT need to provide your school with a physical copy of your tax return. Information uploaded via the IRS DRT is considered verified by the federal government.

If you use the IRS DRT, do NOT change any of the uploaded information or it will flag you for verification and you will have to provide a physical copy of your tax return to your school.

I filed a federal tax return in 2015 – can I use the IRS DRT?

You can use the DRT UNLESS you filed your 2015 tax return

  • Ÿ  Married Filing Separately
  • Ÿ  Married, Head of Household, or
  • Ÿ  You filed an amended tax return
  • Ÿ  You filed a foreign tax return

How do I use the IRS DRT?

  • Ÿ  Go to and login using your FSA ID.
  • Ÿ  Start your FAFSA for 2016-17 or 2017-18. If you applied previously, it should be populated with some of the answers from last year.
  • Ÿ  When you get to the financial information tab, you will be asked questions to determine whether you are eligible to use the IRS DRT. If you are eligible, enter your FSA ID and password and click LINK TO IRS.
  • Ÿ  From there, complete the requested information and click submit. Review your tax return, check “Transfer my information into the FAFSA,” and hit TRANSFER NOW.
  • Ÿ  Your information will be transferred and you will be returned to your FAFSA.

What if my income has changed significantly since 2015?

Once you have submitted your FAFSA, you can talk to your financial aid office and they can assess your situation and make adjustments.


The Student Aid Report (SAR)

If you sign your FAFSA with your FSA ID, you will receive an email from within three to five days. This email will give you instructions on how to access your SAR online.

The SAR will show your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) in the upper right-hand corner. As a foster or former foster youth, your EFC should be ZERO. The SAR includes a summary of the information in the FAFSA, and your school will use it to determine your eligibility for financial aid. Make sure the information is all correct; if it is not, go back to, enter with your FSA ID, and make the necessary changes.


If there is an asterisk (*) next to the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) on your Student Aid Report (SAR), your FAFSA has been selected for verification.

What is verification?  Verification is the process used to confirm that the data reported on your FAFSA is correct. About one-third of all FAFSAs are selected for verification by the Department of Education, based on tax and personal information. Schools may select additional FAFSAs for verification.

Will my school tell me if my FAFSA has been selected for verification?  Your school’s financial aid office will reach out to you through your online student account to request further information. Be sure to check your school email every day for this and any other important notices they may send you.

What do I do next?

  • Ÿ  Visit your financial aid office right away – the sooner you’re verified, the sooner your financial aid package can be finalized.
  • Ÿ  If you used the IRS DRT to provide tax information, you will not have to provide additional tax information.
  • Ÿ  If you are asked to provide proof that you were in foster care, you can use a letter from your caseworker or agency.

Your Financial Aid Package

Your financial aid package is the combination of all grants and scholarships you receive, along with all loans you are offered. The total amount is based on your school’s cost of attendance (COA) and your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC).

Cost of Attendance – the total estimated cost of attending your college, including tuition, fees, books and supplies, and room and board. It is a general figure, not individually calculated for each student, but if you have special circumstances – for example a dependent child or a disability requiring specialized equipment – your financial aid office may be able to make adjustments to the total cost.

Review your financial aid package carefully. If you have questions, visit your financial aid office or make an appointment to speak with your ETV coordinator.

Just because you are offered loans does not mean you have to accept them. In many instances Pell, the Education and Training Voucher (ETV) and other scholarships and/or state or county resources may be enough to support a student with a realistic personal budget. Again, your ETV coordinator is very happy to discuss this with you.

In summary –

  • Ÿ  Complete your FAFSA as soon as possible every year.
  • Ÿ  If appropriate, use the IRS DRT to upload your tax information.
  • Ÿ  Get a foster care letter from your caseworker or agency and keep it with your important papers – just in case.
  • Ÿ  Review your SAR as soon as you get it.
  • Ÿ  If you are selected for verification, visit your financial aid office IMMEDIATELY and take the steps they require.
  • Ÿ  Review your financial aid package, with your ETV coordinator, financial aid officer, foster parent or other trusted adult, and accept your grants and loans responsibly.