Between balancing school, work, and a social life, students have more than enough to think about without worrying where their next meal is coming from. However, a new, expansive study on student food insecurity published Wednesday found that despite receiving student loans and maintaining paying jobs, nearly half of all college students lack a sufficient food resource.
The report, Hunger on Campus, released by a coalition of student groups including the University Food Bank Alliance and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, found food insecurity to be especially prevalent among students of color. Fully 57 percent of African American students reported food insecurity, compared with 40 percent of non-Hispanic white students. The report surveyed 3,765 students in 12 states, including 26 four-year universities and eight community colleges. The study authors define food insecurity as “the lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food,” and they found the analysis remained consistent with prior studies that revealed 48 percent of students were food insecure.
“We have all these students who work, who get financial aid, they’re applying for food stamps, they’re doing all the things they need to do to get by, and they’re still struggling,” James Dubick of the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness told TakePart. “The most important thing we can do in the short term is to help expand student benefits that already exist.”
Despite more than half of students using assistance programs such as campus meal plans, financial aid, and food stamps, 75 percent of students receiving financial aid still qualified as food insecure. The report’s authors also found that more than half of food-insecure students were employed while enrolled in a full course load.
“Food insecurity really is a reflection of other financial problems,” Dubick said. “I think it reflects the overall demographics of the country.”
In a closer look of some of the students surveyed, 64 percent of food-insecure students also suffered from housing insecurity. Empty stomachs also led to empty seats, as over half of students reported additional financial issues that led them to miss classes, or that they were unable to purchase needed textbooks. At the University of Massachusetts Boston, more than three-quarters of students surveyed reported that food insecurity was having an impact on their academic performance.
Experts are advising campuses to bring in antihunger services such as food pantries—advice campuses such as California State University, Long Beach, have heeded. The university opened a campus pantry this fall in partnership with a local charity.
“When we looked around, we found colleges and universities are coming up with very creative ways to address the problem,” said Dubick. Oregon State University and Humboldt State University have made efforts to lessen food insecurity by accepting food stamps at on-campus stores, and new smart phone apps such as Catered Cupboard have been developed to increase students’ awareness of food access on campuses.
“When you have all these students who are doing the right thing but still can’t afford basic things like food, clearly something is broken,” Dubick said.