The #RealCollege campus has homeless, hungry students

'Students are hungry to learn'

Last month the inaugural #RealCollege gathering took place at the University of Wisconsin, Madison's Wisconsin HOPE Lab to draw attention to homeless and hungry higher ed students.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a sociologist, higher ed analyst, and founding director of the lab, wrote a piece for the Washington Post's "Grade Point" to explain why the conference was necessary and what steps must be taken to help students complete their degrees.

At the end of 2015, Godrick-Rab's lab released findings that one in five students goes hungry and 13% are homeless. The data came from a survey of about 4,000 students at 10 institutions, and it mirrored other findings from the lab regarding housing and food insecurity in Wisconsin.

Study: 71% of students say lack of money affects their eating, grocery shopping habits

"It's become increasingly clear that rising child poverty rates in the United States, coupled with broadened college enrollment, means that the same challenges confronting elementary and secondary schools now face colleges and universities," Goldrick-Rab writes.

While some policymakers, practitioners, students, and faculty contacted the lab after the findings went public, they were working as individuals.

"The college completion challenge, we are told, is about the need for better remedial instruction, advising, or nudges to push students to move faster and finish degrees. It isn't about hunger and homelessness. Or is it?" she writes.

Many community college students struggle to afford food

The #RealCollege event brought together representatives from the White House, and departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Agriculture. Discussions ranged from the need to better align benefits to student needs to planning for organizations such as Swipe Out Hunger and the College and University Food Bank Alliance. 

There is no such National School Lunch (or breakfast) Program in college. To enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), students must work at least 20 hours a week, receive Federal Work Study, or have children. For students, that's not always possible.

No home for the holidays: How to help homeless students over break

"Students are hungry to learn, and without a secure place to sleep at night and enough nutritious food to eat, they cannot. There's virtually no assistance available to help college students in need of food or housing," Goldrick-Rab writes (Goldrick-Rab, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 5/10).

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