Food Insecurity No Joke for Hungry College Students
Posted By Marisa Sanfilippo on March 9, 2017 at 3:50 pm
College campuses aren’t places where’d you expect to find hunger. Sure, everyone jokes about poor college kids eating mac and cheese or Asian noodles for nights on end. But food insecurity on college campuses is no joke. A 2016 report by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness indicates nearly 50 percent of respondents had experienced what they call food insecurity within the preceding 30 days.
The USDA has four categories of food security and insecurity.
- Very low food security: Multiple indications of reduced food intake and disruptions to eating patterns.
- Low food security: Reduced variety, quality, or desirability of dietary choices with little to no reduction of food intake.
- Marginal food security: Shortage of food or anxiety of food sufficiency with few changes in food intake or diet.
- High food security: No problems accessing food.
Students reporting food insecurity fall into the very low or low food security classification.
Why is food insecurity increasing?
Megan Bond Hinrichsen, Ph.D., is an anthropology professor at Monmouth College and leads its Global Food Security Initiative. She explains that there has been very little research surrounding the cause of increased food insecurity among college students.
Only within the past five years has the issue begun to be studied, and those studies have taken place at large public universities. The range of findings indicates that between 14 percent and 59 percent of students have experienced food insecurity and that college students are more vulnerable than the general public.
Researchers believe the issue is growing due to the change in student demographics. Colleges are receiving a greater number of nontraditional students comprised of first-generation and low-income students with racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds.
She further explains that studies have identified mixed backgrounds in those experiencing food insecurity. In some cases, the students have a family history of insufficient food. Other students are facing the problem for the first time as they begin their independent adult lives.
Why government resources aren’t enough
One of the problems many students face is they are often not eligible for government programs due to age and income. The government considers most individuals under the age of 24 to be dependents of their parents. However, there are some instances when this does not apply, so students facing insecurity should explore all options.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the program that replaced food stamps. This program is typically not available for students enrolled in college in at least a half-time capacity.
There are circumstances that allow them to qualify. Some include:
- Receiving benefits under a Title IV-A program.
- Participating in a work study program financed by state of federal funds.
- Working a minimum of 20 hours a week.
- Caring for a dependent younger than 6.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a possible source of help for women who are pregnant or who have children up to age 5 who meet the requirements for being at nutritional risk.
State and federal resources typically focus on tuition and housing. Many students receiving financial aid to attend college simply do not have additional money to cover necessities.
Community and college resources
Colleges across the country have noticed the increased need for greater food assistance for students. Many initiatives have been created by students who saw a need and wanted to help.
The College and University Food Bank Alliance, or CUFBA, was created to help support the growing need for college-based food banks. They help organizers develop structures and procedures to ensure they can reach those students who need help. At the end of 2016, membership reached 400.
The organization describes this as a bittersweet accomplishment: “Were students not at such risk of food insecurity there would be no need for organizations such as CUFBA.”
Swipe Out Hunger is a nonprofit that allows students to donate unused meal swipes at the end of the term. The money is then transferred to meal vouchers for students in need, to a campus food closet, or to a local community shelter or program.
Share Meals is a digital platform that allows victims of food insecurity to quickly find free food near them. Students who have extra meal swipes on college meal plans post their willingness to share with others. The app encourages those who are willing to help with those who most need the help. The impetus behind the creation was the importance of creating a conversation between the donor and the recipient that transforms food donation into a shared meal.
Still, food insecurity is a significant challenge for many college students. Additional research is needed to discover the underlying cause and to create effective solutions. Until then, those students experiencing food insecurity will likely need to reach out to local community and college organizations and inquire about food assistance through government programs.