Too Many College Students Are Going Hungry

A new report shows that 10% of college enrollees are “food insecure”

Aug 24, 2014 at 9:00AM

Flickr / fusion_of_horizons.

The rising cost of attending college has attracted a lot of attention lately, particularly when it comes to the enormous pile of student loan debt most enrollees are accumulating.

A new study shows that the burden of pursuing a college diploma also inflicts pain upon students in a more immediate and personal way. The recent Hunger in America 2014 report reveals that food insecurity is a real problem in the U.S., even among those whom we would expect should have such basic needs provided within the framework of their educational expenditures.

The prevalence of hunger
Feeding America, a coalition of 200 member food banks across the United States, publishes this report every four years. This year's study is the first in which questions regarding student status were included, among other new queries. This change was likely due to the effects of the Great Recession, which caused a great influx of people of all socio-economic backgrounds into the realm of higher education. 

Of the 46.5 million served by Feeding America each year, 10% of the adults are college students – 2 million of whom are full-time. Over 30% of households spoke of having to choose between food and educational expenses on a yearly basis. 

While this study has brought this issue front and center, the problem has been noted by others, as well. A whopping 59% of the student population at Western Oregon University was found to be food insecure in a report issued earlier this year, while a UC Berkeley survey of undergraduates in 2012 found that 47% skipped meals – occasionally or more often – to save money. 

The stigma of not having enough to eat
In response, college food banks have been springing up to help students fight food insecurity issues. Once unheard of, the number of campus food assistance centers numbered at least 121 as of this past spring, according to the Michigan State University Food Bank. In 2008, there were only four.

The idea that college students need food pantries isn't very well known, probably because of the stigma attached to admitting that getting enough to eat is a problem.

When Iowa State University opened its food bank in early 2011, a senior interviewed by ABC News described working up his nerve to enter its doors. At LaGuardia Community College in New York, needy students wait in the wings as college staff gather groceries from the school's food pantry, delivering the goods in a nondescript shopping bag. 

Colleges and universities can help
While it seems incredible that nearly 50 million people are hungry in a wealthy nation like the U.S., the study shows that the problem is endemic, touching households with and without children, and encompassing all age groups, regardless of age and education. Many of those affected are working families, including those attending college part-time.

It is well known that childhood hunger impairs the ability to learn – among other things – and there's no reason to think that the effect would not be similar for adults. Certainly, no one in America should have to feel the effects of food insecurity. In the case of college students, however, an immediate fix is possible: Institutions of higher learning could earmark some of their hefty annual income to eradicate this problem on their campuses, and should take steps to do so, without delay.

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