In April, a report released by Temple University researchers and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab revealed that many college students were food insecure. The researchers defined food insecurity based off of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s categorization used across the world.
Using the same set of questions, the report surveyed 43,000 college students across the nation from 66 different schools. They found that 36 percent of the students that they surveyed were deemed food insecure—that shakes out to 15,480 students.
Food insecurity was defined by the report as “’the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the ability to acquire such foods in a socially acceptable manner,’ with the most extreme form accompanied by sensations of hunger” according to U.S. News.
One of the factors contributing to this food crisis is the increase in students coming from low-income backgrounds. This has made low-wage jobs off and on-campus harder to come by, making it more difficult for students to support themselves. This forces them to eat lesser meals each day and even skip meals if they can’t afford to eat.
The prevalence of hunger on community college campuses is the most severe with 42 percent of students being food insecure. This stands in stark contrast to the 14 percent of students at private-four-year colleges. And it’s not just that students can’t afford to eat, but in other cases, they simply can’t afford to buy balanced meals. According to CNBC, ”46 percent of community college students and 40 percent of four-year college students [reported] an inability to pay for balanced meals.”
During my college experience, obtaining a balanced meal was always a sort of a joke among students and teachers. Everyone knows that college is expensive, from books to tuition. Even if you get financial assistance, it can be a struggle if you do not have a support system at home to make sure you have a safety net if you can’t afford to eat. Most of the students I interacted with talked about how they lived off of Ramen noodles and other cheap food options that you can buy in bulk.
Naturally, missing meals and not having a balanced diet affects performance. A study from the University of Florida reported that food insecure students had a higher chance of obtaining a GPA lower than B average.
In a conversation with host Audie Cornish of All Things Considered, which excerpts were transcribed and shared in the article “Food, Housing Insecurity May Be Keeping College Students From Graduating,” Temple University higher education policy professor Sara Goldrick-Rab offered her 2 cents on how to solve this problem. She stated: “I’m not suggesting that colleges become social service agencies, but rather, in support of their main focus — which is to help students graduate — they may need to undertake partnerships and develop resources in conjunction with social service agencies.”
The current status of this problem, whether it is getting worst or better, is unknown. This type of data is not collected by federal agencies. It receives little funding and forces private agencies to conduct surveys to determine the severity of the issue. As Professor Goldrick-Rab states, “the only way we can get information about this is by asking colleges’ permission to survey their students.”
To read more about her thoughts on the matter, you can read other excerpts from this conversation here. You can also view the entire report here.