In a study done by Hunger on Campus, it was reported that 48 percent of college students say they have faced food insecurity since January 2019. This means that nearly half of students across the country have been without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food in the past month. On Thursday, Feb. 6, a collection of student journalists across the country dialed in on a conference call to speak with leaders heading the food insecurity charge.
“People struggle to afford higher education. Not just tuition, but the basics,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is also a ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, “There needs to be basic living accessibility.”
And such basic living accessibility, which many think would be a basic necessity, is hard to come by because hunger on college campuses has been normalized for so long. A week load of schoolwork fueled by a paltry cup of ramen is seen as normal. Hence the stereotype that all college students live off of ramen. It has been assumed, up until recent reports, that this was just the way of a college student’s life. But with the increased economics around education, affording ramen is getting harder and students have gone from eating ramen to eating nothing.
On the conference call there was a common concern: how is it that the next generation of decision makers, the new crop of social-changers, the predecessors of the age of digitization, the people expected to make robots with an IQ of 1000, can’t even get a simple meal? The answer ties back to a problem legislation and students have been facing for decades — the skyrocketing cost of higher education.
Going to college now is 163 percent more expensive than it was in 1988, according to an article by CNBC, across all categories — student loans, average college tuition, financial aid funding. These costs have reached their ceiling. The current trend of food insecurity proves the trickle-down repercussions of the enormous financial weight of higher education. Students must cover tuition, housing costs and textbook costs, and are left with nothing. Not even enough to cover dinner.
And no dinner has its own set of repercussions. As the New York Times article writes: “It’s Hard to Study if You’re Hungry.” Students without access to proper resources, like nutritious food, have been reported to be unable to perform academically. This paints a very real picture for a large portion of students attending universities. Some give up everything to get to school, only to struggle to get by and still not complete graduation, not because of intellectual ability, but due to the conditions they are faced with. Higher education has advantages, but students cannot capitalize on it if they are unable to eat. This hunger is being felt on a national scope. The conference call reviewed the national nature of the issue, and urged a call to action. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Ph.D., professor of higher education policy & sociology at Temple University, spoke of the steps necessary for change.
“There is a need for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do more to enroll students in the SNAP Program [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program],” Goldrick-Rab said.
Her comment is coming off the heels of a report publicly released on Jan. 9, 2019 titled, “Food Insecurity: Better Information Could Help Eligible College Students Access Federal Food Assistance Benefits”. The article summarizes the issue and offers a possible resolution. Based on their findings of the 3.3 million students who were potentially eligible for SNAP in 2016, less than half said they participated.
Goldrick-Rab and Murray both echoed similar messages on how universities can start to resolve the problem. Financial aid departments and benefit programs such as SNAP can help students understand legislation, read through paperwork and shift through terms and conditions.
Even private institutions like Fairfield University and University of California-Berkeley have discovered their students are struggling to afford food. Fairfield has taken an active step in addressing this problem by surveying the student body to see how affected our campus is by food insecurity. The survey is ongoing, but Fairfield administrators hope to learn a lot from the results.
“Our aim is to gather information regarding our student body’s knowledge of food insecurity and to better understand their needs. After reviewing the data collected from the survey our committee of campus partners will work together to determine next steps in tackling next steps any of the issues brought to light by the survey,” said Colleen Wilson, assistant director of Office of Student Engagement who is in charge of the survey, “The committee is comprised of members from Dining Services, Dean of Students Office, Campus Ministry, Office of Residence Life, and Office of Student Engagement.”