You might be surprised by how many students can't afford food

Food security is essential for academic performance, say experts

Roughly half of college students experience difficulty accessing nutritious food, according to a recent study by the College and University Food Bank Alliance, National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness (NSCAHH), Student Government Resource Center, and Student Public Interest Research Groups. 

The study surveyed 3,765 students at 34 schools from 12 states, eight of which were community colleges and 26 of which were four-year colleges. Of the respondents, 48% said they experienced some level of food insecurity over the past month and 22% reported being hungry.

And the hunger is affecting their education.

Because of the struggle to obtain basic necessities, more than half of students surveyed said they could not purchase the textbooks they needed, and 25% said they had to drop a class they could not afford.

But the majority of students who reported food insecurities—75%—are in fact receiving financial aid in some form or another, and 52% are receiving Pell Grants from the government.

According to the authors of the report, this is a sign that the current systems in place to help low-income students fail to account for their basic needs.

The founder of University of Wisconsin-Madison's HOPE Lab Sara Goldrick-Rab says it's time to address the issue.

"At this point we need to move beyond being surprised at the numbers and develop action plans," she wrote in a preface to the report. 

Some colleges have organized programs to help students facing food insecurity. On Columbia University's Facebook page, for instance, students can post and share news about free food events and donate unused swipes into the dining hall. Roughly 400 food pantries have also popped up at colleges across the country. 

But James Dubick, an organizer with NSCAHH and one of the authors of the study, argues that the real solution is to help students access federal benefits. Dubick points out that students are often unaware that they are even eligible for such assistance.

Improve persistence among Pell Grant recipients

To help address student hunger, the report's authors recommend that colleges:

  • Create campus food pantries;
  • Establish community gardens;
  • Develop food recovery programs; and
  • Help students to access federal financial aid, perhaps through a designated resource center.

On the national level, the report's authors encourage policymakers to:

  • Simplify eligibility rules for students to obtain food stamps through the SNAP program; and
  • Revoke rules that require full-time students to work (Berman, Market Watch, 10/8; Schneider, "The Capital Times,", 10/7). 

How to build pathways for low-income students

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