In April, a study was conducted by the Wisconsin Hope Lab which was designed to determine how secure university students were with basic needs such as food and lodging. The study had a broad pool to pull from, surveying 43,000 students from 66 different institutions in 20 states. Previous studies pale in comparison for they only looked at community colleges. This new report expanded its scope to include 4-year students and community college students. One of the glaring problems currently facing students according to the report is that students don’t have enough money to afford food.
Rampant Food Insecurity
Before we go any further, it is important to define the term food insecurity. In the report, it is defined as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the ability to acquire such foods in a socially acceptable manner. The most extreme form is often accompanied by physiological sensations of hunger.” By using this parameter, the findings are alarming.
Thirty-six percent of university students that were surveyed revealed that 30 days prior to the survey being conducted, they were in fact already food insecure. In comparison to community college students, this number was even greater at 42 percent. And when you consider the entire group of students surveyed, the report found that “less than half of all students surveyed reported being completely secure, meaning they did not experience any food or housing insecurity, or homelessness, in the past year.”
One of the most revealing aspects of this report is in regards to students working while also attending school. The report found that those that were not working or who were seeking work were equally food insecure when compared to those working 40 hours a week or more. If you look at those only working 6 to 20 hours a week, these individuals were, in fact, more food secure than those not working and those working very long hours.
As a result of those working long hours, as well as being food insecure, this led to poorer academic performance. This is significant because many students have to maintain a C-average to keep their financial aid. As such, these two factors have created a situation where students are now more vulnerable to losing their financial aid.
The report offers basically three different approaches that should be taken to overcome this problem. The first involves placing more responsibility on the shoulders of students. They suggest that since students are the closest to the problem, they are in fact the best to come up with solutions to solve it. This could mean students creating their own programs to combat food insecurity, actively supporting each other, and being more active in educating others about this crisis.
But this problem cannot solely be resolved by students. Universities also have a role to play. The report suggests that they should implement data collection initiatives to better understand the problem. In doing so, they can create useful programs to support their students who are food insecure. And lastly, policymakers too have the power to evoke change. They can consider expanding public benefits for students and streamline the financial aid processes and procedures.