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Homeless Higher Education

Opportunities in Higher Education for Unaccompanied Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Each year, more than 1.1 million young people in the United States experience homelessness. Some of these young people, known as unaccompanied homeless youth, will face the challenges of homelessness while living on their own without the support of a caring adult. Colorado school districts reported a total of 16,540 homeless students, of whom 2,034 were unaccompanied, during the 2021-22 school year.

FAFSA Updates
Changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) went into effect July 1, 2023 broadening authorized verifiers of an unaccompanied youth’s status as experiencing, or at-risk of homelessness.  If you are a youth who meets the definition of homelessness under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and is not in the physical custody of a parent or legal guardian, one of the following people may be able to assist you in filing as an independent student on the FAFSA.  

  • School district homeless liaisons or their designee;

  • The director or a designee of a director of an emergency or transitional shelter, street outreach program, homeless youth drop-in center, or other program serving individuals who are experiencing homelessness;

  • The director or a designee of a director of a program funded under a TRIO or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for an Undergraduate program (“GEAR UP”) grant;

  • The director or designee of a program funded under subtitle B of title IV of McKinney-Vento (relating to emergency shelter grants) (42 U.S.C. 11371 et seq.);

  • A financial aid administrator at the current institution or at another institution who previously made a determination.

Education as a Pathway out of Poverty

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is the primary piece of federal legislation dedicated to the education of homeless children and youth. McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act does not apply to students in college; however,  there are supports for students who are unaccompanied and experiencing homelessness, or at risk of being homeless

Currently a high school student?
Talk with your school district’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Liaison and academic school counselor about your goals after highschool.  List of McKinney-Vento Homeless Liaisons.

Questions about entering college/university?
Each public two and four-year college and private four-year college in Colorado has a designated staff member called the McKinney-Vento Single Point of Contact (SPOC) to assist you with all your questions about that particular college. List of college contacts. Call or email your questions to the person listed at the college you're interested in.

Helpful Resources for Supporting Unaccompanied Youth Experiencing or At-Risk of Homelessness

FAFSA Information Page through SchoolHouse Connection

U.S. Department of Education (ED) policy guidance on financial aid determinations for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness

Application and Verification Guide


Paula Gumina, State Coordinator, Education of Homeless Children and Youth