Starving Students: Food Insecurity on College Campuses

food insecurity on college campuses

As an undergraduate student, I have lived both in the dorms and off campus; I currently live off campus in an apartment and buy my own groceries. Sometimes money gets tight, so I eat cereal for all three meals without any milk towards the end of the month. For some students, the reality is that they can’t even afford groceries because food insecurity on college campuses is a real and pressing issue. In fact, millions of students go hungry every year.

Food insecurity is “the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.”

While many college students joke about living off of ramen noodles and cans of energy drink, these college “staples” may be affordable, but they are by no means nutritious. According to the College and University Food Bank Alliance, 30% of students are food insecure. Not only does food insecurity affect physical well being, but also academic success in terms of grades, graduation timelines, and learning.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently conducted a study on food insecurity on college campuses. According to the study, 3.3 million students were eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), yet only about half participated. Better information on such programs could help eligible students realize they are eligible and get the help they need to apply for the program. The GAO, and other organizations targeting food insecurity, also noted that programs like SNAP have limited eligibility criteria, like in New York, where there are work requirements to receive benefits, and that the benefits should carry over to dining halls and stores on campus.

Colleges are taking matters into their own hands. That same GOA study says that:

As of September 2018, over 650 colleges reported having a food pantry on campus that provides free food to college students in need.

These on campus food pantries are acknowledging that food insecurity is a real issue on many campuses, and shows that the community of professors, faculty, and peers believe that everyone should have access to nutritious and affordable food while attending college.

College tuition is expensive and is rising. Students, especially those who are low income, first time, first generation, or raising children, are the most at risk for food insecurity according to the GAO report. Students who spend all their savings on education have little money to spend on anything else, like food. Students are skipping meals, taking “poverty” naps to subdue the hunger, taking out more loans than they need to cover living expenses, and even dropping out as this Time Magazine article notes.

The good news is that colleges are stepping up by helping students register for SNAP, opening food pantries on campus, and even creating programs that give food leftovers from events to students.

The choice between eating and getting a higher education should never have to be made.

As Sara Goldrick-Rab, a higher-education professor at Temple University, says in an interview by The Atlantic: “We have to stop pretending like living expenses are not educational expenses.”