There’s a startling phenomenon happening on campuses across the country. The symptom of the problem is that hundreds of colleges run food pantries, often run by students. They are not a means of feeding poor inhabitants of the college town, but rather an attempt to feed the college’s own students who are hungry. And some of the students are not just going without food once in a while; they are chronically hungry, going without food for long stretches of time.
Maybe you’re already familiar with the term “food insecurity.” It refers to the state of not having a access to a reliable source of sufficient nourishment. And college students are experiencing it in a big way.
You might think – not on campuses with dining plans, but you’d be wrong. Even on campuses where students sign up for a meal plan, they are facing food insecurity in greater numbers than we would ever imagine.
“Hunger on Campus: The Challenge of Food Insecurity for College Students” (October 2016) cites disquieting statistics:
- Almost half of respondents to their survey reported having suffered food insecurity in the past month.
- The incidence is higher than anyone would like to think at both 2-year and 4-year institutions.
- Over half of first-generation college students and over half of students of color surveyed reported food insecurity.
And, of course, it is not surprising to hear that students who don’t have a reliable and consistent source of sustenance also experience housing problems in high numbers. That’s why so many colleges find students sleeping in libraries and lounges, tucking their sleeping bags behind the furniture when they go to class. This state of affairs is beyond distressing.
What is happening out there to help?
UC Berkeley and the University of Oregon have created basic needs resources portals – comprehensive, centralized sites to help students with all aspects of issues that may prevent them from reaching their academic and personal goals.
Some colleges offer students the option of donating their unused meals on their dining plans to other students. And many have programs that enable university community members to advertise leftover food from campus events.
The National Student Campaign against Hunger and Homelessness is helping students create programs that help other students.
As for student homelessness, one of the most intriguing solutions I’ve heard of is NYU’s low-cost housing program that connects students with elderly community members who have an extra room and need a bit of help and companionship.
EAB, “a research, technology, and consulting firm that works with more than 1,300 education organizations across North America”(and one my college works with closely), has authored a compelling report on the food and housing insecurity issues along with an implementation guide for campuses. It is an exceptional piece of work.
What is true is that every campus is either facing these issues head on or trying to figure out how. As the costs of higher education rise and financial assistance fails to meet the gap between what a student can and must pay, the scale of these problems will continue to grow. Unless we do something fast, more and more learners will fail to reach their potential because they lack reliable sources of food and shelter.