Hungry on Campus: College Students Facing Food Insecurity

By: Jim Jenkins
Jan 24, 2017 12:45 PM ET

Hunger insecurity on campus is often an unmentionable topic. Many assume that, while enrolled in college, students’ needs are entirely met through financial assistance programs such as financial aid. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. With the cost of public and private universities on the rise, some college students are left to suffer silently while the issue of food insecurity remains a subject of little discussion. 

Hunger on Campus: The Challenge of Food Insecurity for College Students a first of its kind study conducted by the College and University Food Bank Alliance, National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, Student Government Resource Center, and Student Public Interest Research Groups explores this issue. Furthermore, it challenges what many believe to be the typical college student stereotype. Although most people think that the average college student is a recent high school graduate who is dependent on his/her parents financially this study declares that 74 percent of college students are “nontraditional.” To be categorized as nontraditional, the student must fit at least one of six categories stating that they are financially dependent and/or supporting dependents, attending college without a high school diploma, raising children as a single parent, attending school part-time, or working full-time. Based on the information concluded from this study, America’s idea of a typical college student may be largely skewed.

Corresponding with this information, 72 percent of college students work – both traditional and nontraditional students – and of those working 20 percent are working full-time (nontraditional). Nonetheless, even for those burning the candle at both ends, working and attending classes, it is still not enough. Because of that, sometimes going without food is the price paid when earning a degree; this is accurate for both students attending community college and those at four-year institutions. Shockingly, there is only a five percent difference between the amount of very food insecure students at community colleges and those studying at four-year universities.

In an attempt to reduce food insecurity among college students some schools, including Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA, now accept SNAP (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Additionally, both community colleges and four-year universities making the pact to end food insecurity for their students have started campus food pantries, with the help of nonprofits such as the College and University Food Bank Alliance, and campus gardens. Recently NPR reported that George Washington University determined that nearly half its student population matched the national rate of 48 percent of respondents who experienced food insecurity. This discovery led school administrators to act – they opened a Food Pantry for students called The Store. Ways to further reduce this issue on campus include establishing food recovery procedures, which contain instructions for safely donating surplus food.

Furthermore, statistics tell us that hunger in America is all too prevalent even on college campuses. In addressing this silent epidemic we acknowledge the contributing factors that are out of our control; including rising tuition costs – making it nearly impossible for students to forgo collecting debt before striking out on their own. For students, establishing a pantry or food bank on campus is one way to lessen the effects of hunger insecurity and help them succeed. For parents, donating food to college-based food banks and practicing safe food recovery in your home – to later donate – are other options to help sustain today’s students.

Jim Jenkins is CEO of Universities East for Sodexo North America where he oversees more than 400 college and university partnerships. With $9.3 billion in annual revenues in the U.S. and Canada, Sodexo’s 133,000 employees provide more than 100 unique services that increase performance at 9,000 client sites and improve Quality of Life for 15 million consumers every day.