The University Network

Hunger Standing in the Way of US College Students

Over-worked, exhausted and broke are words often used to describe college students. Add another one to the list – Hungry.  

According to a report issued this week, “food insecurity” –  a term used by the USDA  when referring to a lack of access to affordable, nutritious food – is commonplace at community and 4-year colleges, across the country.

The Hunger on Campus study surveyed 3,765 students in 12 states attending 34 colleges over a 3-month period (March-May 2016). It was organized and carried out by four organizations: the College and University Food Bank Alliance, the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, the Student Government Resource Center, and Student Public Interest Research Groups.

The key takeaways from the study were:

  • 48% of respondents reported food insecurity.
  • 57% of Black or African American students reported food insecurity, compared to 40% of non-Hispanic white students.
  • 56% of first-generation students were food insecure.
  • 25% of community college students qualified as having “very low” food security.
  • 20% at four-year schools students qualified as having “very low” food security.

The study also found a strong link between food insecurity and housing insecurity.  

Even Meal Plan Students Suffer

The study found that even students enrolled in a meal plan with a campus dining hall could be food insecure.  In fact, 43% of respondents from 4-year colleges, who were enrolled in a meal plan, still experienced food insecurity.

Majority of Food Insecure Students Worked & Received Some Form of Financial Aid

Food insecurity was also experienced by college students who had paying jobs and those who received financial assistance.   56% of food insecure students reported having a paying job (with 38% of those students working 20 hours or more per week).  Over 75% of food insecure students received some form of financial aid, with 52% receiving Pell Grants and 37% having student loans during the current academic year.

Forgo Buying Textbooks

The study found that 32% of the food insecure believed that hunger or housing problems adversely impacted their education, with 55% of those students reporting that these problems caused them to NOT buy a required textbook.  This is consistent with TUN’s own research. TUN’s 2015 College Marketing Study revealed that 68% of students decided against purchasing a required textbook because of the high cost.


These findings reinforce the need for big brands and local businesses to offer student discounts.  Student discounts on food related items are well received, but discounts on non-food items also help students because they leave students with more money to spend on food.