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College Students Can’t Afford to Eat: 45% Have Food Insecurity Study Finds

Photo Credit: Alexis Brown

by John-Mark de Palma

3 Min Read. College students surviving on Ramen noodles, mac-and-cheese, and cereal may sound like an anecdotal rite of passage, but for 45% of 4-year college students, food insecurity is real. The New York Times reports, that for some students, hunger pangs, delirium, and poverty naps – where students rather sleep than deal with the hunger they are experiencing – is a common occurrence.  

A recent study from Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community Justice, found that 1 in 10 students have gone a whole day without eating a meal due to lack of money or food and 50% of the respondents could not afford to eat balanced meals and skipped meals because they could not afford to eat. The report also found that 44% of students worried about running out of food, while 16% lost weight because they lacked the funds to purchase food.   

At the City University of New York, 48% of the students in attendance have experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days. The University of California found that 40% of its students suffer from food insecurity while the four State Universities of Illinois found that 35% of its students struggle with the issue. Combined, the data sets indicate that the problem of student food insecurity is serious and far-reaching.  

While the factors underlying hunger on campus are complex, researchers cite rapidly rising college costs, growing enrollment of lower-income students, and the failure of student aid packages as the major factors contributing to the lack of food for students.  

Schools like George Washington University, Nassau Community College, State University of New York, and Michigan State have opened food pantries for students. Some universities have food redistribution programs where leftover cafeteria and catered food goes to needy students.  St. John’s University in New York disperses emergency grants to students who experience unexpected hardships. According to the Washington Post, membership in the College and University Food Bank Alliance has grown from 15 in 2012 to over 700 today.  
Adam Harris of The Atlantic reports that Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate’s education committee, is making college food insecurity a “top priority” as Congress negotiates a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the major federal law governing colleges and universities. “Often we just talk about the tuition costs and dealing with that,” says Senator Murry, “It has to be broader than that—[it has to be] all of the costs that come to a student as they try to complete college, including food and housing.” 

Related Content: 

College and University Basic Needs Insecurity: A National #RealCollege Survey Report | Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community Justice 

Millions of College Students Are Going Hungry | The Atlantic 

Tuition or Dinner? Nearly Half of College Students Surveyed in a New Report Are Going Hungry | The New York Times 

Fighting Food Insecurity on College Campuses | U.S. News & World Report 

The hidden crisis on college campuses: Many students don’t have enough to eat | The Washington Post 

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