Courtesy: Cerritos College

With a roof over his head, Anthony Miller’s grades rose from D’s to B’s. But many students aren’t so lucky. One told us, “We’re barely making it, barely able to pay rent. There are times where I can’t come to school because I don’t have bus fare. There are days where I can’t pay my phone bill because it all went to rent or food. As soon as that happens, I don’t have more money for school supplies, for bus fare — for anything.”

At Cerritos College, we listen to our students, and our work is informed by their experiences. Right now, they are very clear: Affordable on-campus housing is a top priority.

In 2019 — before the pandemic struck — a survey revealed that more than half of our nearly 21,000 students struggled to afford housing. That’s why we opened The Village, California’s first community college initiative for students experiencing homelessness. The initiative can only help 28 students, but student need has only grown, leading to our application for state support through the Higher Education Student Housing Grant Program.

If our application is approved, we will build an $80 million student housing project offering 400 affordable beds by 2026. The average price will be $717 per bed, including utilities, far below Los Angeles’ typical rent, which ranges up to $1,800 per month. Since many of our students have children, our housing will include studios, two-bedroom and four-bedroom units. To ensure student success, on-site supports will include a food/hygiene pantry, tutoring, free laundry and access to mental health care.

Like many other California community college districts that have applied for construction grants, our decision to undertake this work reflects a great deal of planning and thought. We’ve leveraged supports and tools developed by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office’s new Affordable Student Housing program, conducted a student housing market study, investigated more than 20 potential sites, commissioned schematic designs, created a workable budget and secured $12 million in matching funds from our board.

We are well-prepared and deeply committed to this effort because we know that for our students, being without a home is a deal breaker. Unlike universities that use housing to compete for students, we serve place-bound, low-income adults for whom we are the only option. Nearly all our students work, and many have families, but right now 44% of them face commutes of at least an hour to school. Housing is a strategic tool for helping them complete college, not a luxury.

The lack of housing on community college campuses is keeping many Californians from the credentials they need for good jobs. Universities know that campus living promotes academic success and social integration — every public university in the state offers it. The same should be available for our students. Our students are often the first in their families to go to college, and their financial stability depends on finishing a credential. Our students are also majority Hispanic, with far lower incomes than most college students. Yet they often face higher prices than university students, since they receive much less state financial aid to help with living expenses. For example, the California Student Aid Commission points out that community college students are eligible for a fraction — $1,672 — of the $6,000 Access Award funding that four-year students are eligible to receive. And unlike universities, we lack the endowment to fund housing on our own. The University of California’s chief financial officer says they can afford to build housing without state assistance; we simply cannot.

Don’t community college students deserve the same housing support that university students already receive? At Cerritos College, we know that affordable housing is a matter of economic and racial justice for our students, and it is a tool we must use to help them succeed. We are ready to build.


Jose Fierro is superintendent/president of Cerritos College and president of the Chief Executive Officers of the California Community Colleges board.

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  1. Steve Petzold 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Community college districts like the Santa Clarita Community College District (College of the Canyons) do not need or desire student housing. COC recently received $60,000,000 to build 100 units on the campus. The college has not engaged us in a conversation. This is a taxpayer rip off .

  2. Josh Franco 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Achieving equity requires parity. All California higher education students, regardless of whether they start at a community college, CSU, or UC, should have access to on-campus housing. I appreciate President Fierro’s article and the collective efforts of CCC students, faculty, staff, and administrative leaders in making on-campus housing a reality for our students.