How the “San Franciscoization” of More Cities Threatens Student Retention and Graduation Prospects


“They're people with jobs. They're people who work full-time and still can't afford to live in the city. San Francisco is moving fast. Entire neighborhoods are changing. And thousands of people are being left behind.” This quote comes from a Vox article entitled “Inside San Francisco’s housing crisis” and it is indicative of what is going on in an increasing number of places across the country.

While there is no doubt that the city has wonderful elements to it that include great culture, diversity, unique architecture, creativity, and fabulous restaurants, the “San Franciscoization” of an increasing number of cities is spreading a set of housing circumstances that was once confined to a smaller number of areas to many more.

The San Franciscoization term refers to an assortment of factors associated with a several lack of quality housing that is affordable that includes skyrocketing rent and a housing market that is financially out of reach for most Americans. Dr. Marcus BrightDr. Marcus Bright

Housing instability is an issue for students that has always been a factor for a segment of the population but may explode to a larger portion in short order if current trends continue. Explosions in the cost of housing are causing financial states of emergency in households across the country. The social, mental, and physical consequences of this are devastating.

As eviction moratoriums expire and other forms of housing support evaporate or languish; the fate of students and families hang in balance. The plight of those who are trying to figure out how they are going to maintain some semblance of a material quality of life is deserving of care, concern, and attention.

If one doesn’t have a stable place to live; then they clearly aren’t in the optimal circumstances needed to perform at a consistently high academic level. This is one of the main issues that lie beneath poor retention numbers. The context of unaffordable housing and the economic deprivation that far too many students face is crucial and must be addressed in an expeditious manner. 

The bottom line is that as housing costs have soared, wages have not. This has placed a tremendous amount of financial pressure on many families who may be renting or don’t have any form of consistent housing at all. The need for governmental intervention at the federal, state, and local levels is clear. 

The current trajectory is unsustainable in general and has a direct impact on higher education. This is especially pertinent for predominantly commuter schools who either have no student housing or a very limited amount of housing on campus. Institutions should work with local agencies, elected officials, and other entities to find solutions for students and figure out ways to provide support for their housing needs. 

If left unaddressed, retention and completion rates are likely to fall even more as students may be forced to dropout due to stress derived from having to figure out where they will lay their head on a nightly basis, taking on more jobs that reduce needed academic time, or severe academic underperformance due to a redirected focus on basic survival.  

This issue should be treated like a state of emergency and addressed head on in a consistent manner for a sustained change to take place where a significant number of students are better able to maximize their academic potential without having to contend with the heavy burden of housing insecurity and constantly scrambling for basic shelter and a place to stay. 

Dr. Marcus Bright is a scholar and educational administrator.