Community Colleges Increase Housing Options

The profile of the average community college student is changing. While two-year institutions still have significant populations of adult students and people desirous of enhancing their career options, there is a growing number of first-time college students, age 18 to 22, that are seeking a traditional college experience.

Joshua RedaJoshua RedaThere are also students who don’t have stable or consistent homes who want a place to reside while pursuing their education. A 2022 national report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) notes that community college students often deal with housing insecurity, which was exacerbated by the pandemic — 14% of study respondents were classified as housing insecure.

Community colleges around the country are exploring residential options, developing housing for the first time, or partnering with organizations such as Educational Housing Services (EHS), a New York City nonprofit group that houses students from colleges throughout the city.

“As of now, we have over 300 applications for next fall from students that have applied for housing,” says Nicholas Hamel, vice president and dean of student services at Central Maine Community College (CMCC). “Another 100 more have indicated on their admissions application that they may have interest. This is a growing interest, it seems, every year.”

Established housing

CMCC opened in 1964. Its first dormitory opened in 1968, which housed 60 students. In 1974, CMCC built two small apartment buildings that added an additional 42 beds to campus. With housing requests growing in the late 1990s/early 2000s, double rooms became triples, and half the single rooms became doubles to the point where it wasn’t sustainable. That led to the 2007 opening of Rancourt Hall, which added 152 beds. The college also leases a motel, which is called Mustang Hall, with 126 beds.

Presently, about 10% of CMCC’s student population reside in residential housing. The college has slightly over 3,000 degree-seeking students and a total of 4,000 students. The average age of the students has decreased to 23. Hamel notes that the residential students are a mix of Maine locals, people from other states in New England, and international students. The dormitories are currently at capacity.

Northampton Community College (NCC), the only community college in Pennsylvania with housing, introduced residential options in the 1990s and added additional housing and apartments in the early 2000s. Joshua Reda, NCC’s director of housing, recruitment and conferences, says current interest is strong.

“When we talk to people, a lot of them want that college experience,” Reda says. “Even if they live local, they feel it’s easier than commuting.”

Study space in the EHS New Yorker Lounge.Study space in the EHS New Yorker Lounge.Total enrollment at NCC is just shy of 9,000 students across the college’s three campuses. The capacity in campus housing at the Bethlehem campus is 570. About 380 students are in residence. Reda says that, before the pandemic, housing was filled to capacity and there was often a waiting list. He anticipates the numbers will soon rise to previous levels.

“They have to have at least nine course credits in an accredited program [to be eligible for housing],” says Reda. “Typically, our average age is about 19 years old, but we do have residents currently in housing that range from 25 up to 50. … We don’t have family housing because our facilities aren’t currently set up to support that.”

Central Oregon Community College (COCC) opened its current housing facility, Wickiup Hall, in 2016. It is a 320-bed residence hall, which has common spaces in addition to rooms, including TV lounges and a communal kitchen that create a sense of community. The building is in proximity to classes and campus resources. Approximately 8% of the overall student population live in the housing. It has been at or near capacity since 2017. Older students are welcome, but there are not accommodations for married couples or children.

“We get a number of students that are from our local area, like any community college, but we also bring students in from across the region,” says Andrew Davis, director of student and campus life at COCC. “Most of our residents are first-time students.”

Founded in 1987, EHS works with individuals and academic institutions to provide housing for students attending New York City’s colleges and universities as well as students who come to the city each summer for internships. It operates eight student residences in Manhattan and Brooklyn, each of which has communal kitchens, lounges, and study areas. Of the seven community colleges in the City University of New York (CUNY), EHS’s closest relationship is with Borough of Manhattan Community College, which sends several students each semester to EHS’s Brooklyn Heights and Manhattan locations.

“Sometimes we are a school’s housing, or we’re their overflow housing,” says Faye Bean, senior vice president of marketing and leasing for EHS. “Post-pandemic, we have more individual students coming to us than actual school contracts.”


“As of 2020, students who live on campus, their [three-year] graduation rate is 4% higher than the students who do not live on campus,” says Andrew Morong, dean of enrollment management at CMCC. “Their fall-to-fall retention rate between fall 2022 and fall 2023 was actually 11% higher than commuters.”

Dr. Serena Klempin, research associate at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, says that, given most community colleges were not designed as residential colleges, adding housing is a relatively new idea for most institutions. The pandemic has increased awareness of housing insecurity, and she says research shows that students cannot focus on their education if they don’t have reliable housing.

Campus housing could have a discernable impact on retention and graduation. “Providing that stability makes a huge difference in terms of outcomes,” she says.

NCC has the option of “break housing” for residential students who may not have anywhere to go during times when the college is closed. Students are honest about housing insecurity, Reda notes, and he and his staff work to accommodate their needs.

Faye BeanFaye BeanAt COCC, Davis says residential students are often 5% to 6% higher in fall-to-winter retention than the rest of the college’s certificate/degree seeking students. By example, fall 2023 students with housing had a retention rate of 89.6% versus 83.8% for other certificate/degree seeking students. Beyond what is perceived as the traditional college experience, housing also fosters supportive community, which is beneficial to retention. EHS Senior Vice President of Student Life Christy Caiti Chatfield has set up programming and amenities that build community. She also organizes orientation sessions that include neighborhood tours. Similar to college dorms, the facilities have resident advisors, although some schools that place a large number of students with EHS may send resident advisors specifically selected by the college.

“We have community kitchens, where students can cook together; we have areas where students can lounge; they can study with each other,” says Chatfield. “Throughout the year, we try to organize events for students.”

City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), which comprises seven community colleges, partners with Depaul USA’s Dax Program (separate organization from DePaul University) that assists college students facing either housing insecurity or homelessness with the goal of maintaining enrollment and improving graduation rates. A 2019 #RealCollege survey of CCC students by The Hope Center found that 54% of respondents experienced housing insecurity and 15% of respondents were homeless the previous year.

Dax students must be 30 years old or younger with no dependents, enrolled full-time and maintain good academic standing, work a minimum of 10 hours a week and meet with a program manager at least once a month. There is a reduced monthly rent payment, to which CCC contributes.

“The students don’t just get the housing, they get individualized counseling, transportation, and other supports that are comprehensive,” says CCC Chancellor Juan Salgado. “This is what our students need to build upon the strengths, resilience, and persistence they already have. They need supports to meet them where they’re at.”

Only a fraction of CCC’s 60,000 students are housed at Dax Program facilities. Ten are at Cecilia House, launched in 2022, and six at Holy Innocents, launched in 2023.

Emerging options

Hamel says CMCC is contacted regularly by community colleges around the country asking for advice about adding residential options. CMCC is one of seven institutions in the Maine Community College System, five of which have long offered housing.

“The last remaining two colleges we’ve worked with very closely over the last five years, and now one of them is offering housing,” says Hamel. “The remaining one is looking to do that next year.”

Davis says over the next two to three years, community colleges will increase their focus on housing insecurity. COCC housing provides a safe, convenient, and affordable (relative to rental costs in Bend, Oregon) option. This enables students to focus on their studies.

As an ever-growing number of cost-conscious students turn to community colleges for their first two years of postsecondary education, there will be an increase in requests for residential housing from that population, Bean says. In the summer, certain EHS buildings have a Pell Grant rate for individuals who are Pell Grant eligible. During the school year, there are some academic achievement scholarships.

EHS President and CEO Jeffrey H. Lynford frequently participates in dialogues around developing housing for college students in urban settings. 

“We’re resources,” says Bean. “We’ve had people come from all over to see what we do and how they can replicate it.”

Even though many community college students are adults and several of them have children, none of the sources interviewed for this article currently have accommodations for children. There are some older students — including individuals in their 40s and 50s — who reside in the residences. Those facilities that are coed would allow married or cohabiting couples to reside together in a double room if both are students.

Students study and relax in the EHS New Yorker Lounge.Students study and relax in the EHS New Yorker Lounge.The Dax Program provides referrals and service plans that include physical and mental health, legal services and other services participants may need. CCC is working on a strategy to open more homes that will provide stable housing for students, including non-traditional students.

“We’ll look at further opportunities that meet the demand,” says Salgado. “Right now, the students with children we’re mostly doing referral work.”

Klempin notes that Jackson College in Michigan has built “tiny homes,” some of which are specifically designated for families. Imperial Valley College in California has built tiny, 170-square-foot residences for students experiencing housing insecurity. She explains that there are ways to support housing for student-parents other than campus housing. By example, financial assistance from the pandemic recovery funds. Also, becoming more adept at identifying students dealing with housing insecurities and not relying on the students to self-report.

The CCCSE report says academic advisors should be asking students about housing and food insecurity and faculty should be trained to spot signs.

“I imagine we’ll continue to see community colleges trying to do their utmost to support their students and providing housing solutions will be part of that,” Klempin says. “The hard part is that providing housing support and doing it at scale for as many students that need it is especially difficult for community colleges that have limited resources.”

The CCCSE report advocates for building community partnerships, especially those that provide critical services related to housing and food as well as allocating funds for emergency assistance.

“I think we’ll continue to see more colleges thinking about housing in terms of tiers of support that they can offer,” Klempin adds. “We see colleges now with basic needs coordinators — someone who can provide referrals and who can help students identify affordable housing, as well as partnerships…with nonprofits, churches, housing authorities and four-year universities.”

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