Higher education in today’s world holds more value than ever before. Enrollment numbers are on the rise, and so, too, is food insecurity among students. The problem is more common than most of us are even aware of. Out of the 46.5 million adult clients at Feeding America’s food banks, 1 in 10 is a college student.
Enrollment rates in American colleges and universities have doubled in the last 50 years. For most people, earning a college degree is the initial leap towards developing a career and financial security. This might explain why enrollment rates for low income students are at the highest they’ve ever been. It’s expected that two thirds of all jobs will need training beyond a high school education by 2020. Along with a greater demand for higher education comes increased costs of attending colleges and universities. Attending a non-profit, four-year university today costs about $31,231 a year. With increased numbers of low and middle income students attending college, Americans have accumulated a shared $1.2 trillion in college debts.
With the enormous price of a higher education, it is no wonder that so many students are finding themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. If being a full time student isn’t hard enough, students that deal with food insecurity are forced to make tough financial decisions that often lead to setbacks in achieving academic goals. Fifty-five percent of food insecure students said it has caused them to not purchase required textbooks for courses, while 53% reported missing class because they were hungry. Fifty-six percent of college students that struggle with food insecurity have paying jobs where many of them work 20 plus hours a week. When a student’s performance in the classroom suffers, it often times leads to a decrease in financial aid the student receives.
Even though the issue of hunger on campuses still remains invisible to many, faculties and schools are beginning to take notice and are taking steps to address the problem. In the past two decades alone there has been a spike in the number of food pantries on college campuses. The oldest campus food bank, founded in 1993, is at Michigan State University which feeds 2,200 of the school’s 50,000 students. The College and University Food Bank Alliance, which supports college food banks and was co-founded by MSU, currently has 400 members in their network.
To reduce the stigma associated with going to food pantries, schools like LaGuardia Community College have their on-campus food pantries set up to be unnoticeable to most people. Students come into the financial aid office and are sent home with unmarked bags containing food.
The National Student Campaign Against Hunger & Homelessness suggests that colleges and universities address food insecurity by doing things like implementing college food pantries, campus community gardens, food recovery programs, and benefits access programs. Additionally the NSCAHH says that, “policymakers should take steps to improve students’ access to existing federal programs, including expanding the SNAP eligibility requirements for college students, simplifying the FAFSA process (particularly for homeless students), and adding food security measurements to the annual National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.”
In the meantime, there are steps that you can take to fight hunger at your school! Move For Hunger, for instance, can help you plan, promote, and coordinate a food drive on your campus – all free of charge.