The University Network

Universities Are Stepping Up To Fight Campus Hunger, But Where Is The Government?

Food insecurity is a huge concern among college students. And although many colleges and universities have taken strides to make sure all of their students are well-fed, the government has some work to do, a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggests.

Today, to earn a high-paying job, a college education is next to essential.

A degree in higher education paves the way for social and financial opportunity. For less financially-fortunate students, it can be seen as a ticket out of the lower-income bracket.

But affording an education is difficult, even with financial aid. Skyrocketing college costs are forcing students to take out loans that put them in debilitating debt for years to come. On average, students are graduating with about $37,000 in student debt.

What is less often discussed, however, are the financial dilemmas that students face while still in school.

Since many students only have time to work a part-time job, the costs of tuition, rent and books are forcing them to often forego the very thing keeping them alive — food.

According to a 2016 study, only 18 percent of students reported being able to cover all of their college expenses by working a job.  

“A surprising number of students live at or near the poverty level,” the authors wrote. “One common consequence of poverty is food insecurity — the lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food.”

The 2016 study shows that 48 percent of college students experience food insecurity.

Government must improve communication

The GAO report was requested by four U.S. senators who were interested in the efforts being taken to address campus hunger.

When non-students face food insecurity, they often turn to the Food and Nutrition Service’s (FNS) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as food stamps. But the program has distinct rules, and college students may have limited access, according to the report.  

Through their research, the authors of the GAO report found that 2 million at-risk students who were potentially eligible for SNAP didn’t receive any of the program’s benefits.

This is primarily due to a lack of communication.

To conduct the report, GAO contacted 14 colleges to see how they are dealing with campus hunger. Of the 14 colleges, nine had officials and students who voiced concerns about being unfamiliar or not understanding SNAP’s student eligibility rules.

“Some college officials said that they would like information from FNS to better explain SNAP student rules, but FNS has not made such information easily accessible on its website,” the authors wrote in the report.

The authors proposed two recommendations for executive action.

First, they suggest the “Administrator of FNS should make information on their website regarding student SNAP eligibility requirements easier to understand and more accessible, as a resource for colleges and state SNAP agencies.”

And second, the “Administrator of FNS should coordinate with its regional offices to collect and review information about existing SNAP flexibilities and examples of approaches state SNAP agencies are taking to assist eligible college students to access SNAP benefits, and share such information with state SNAP agencies.”

What universities are doing

Colleges and universities, on the other hand, are working hard to make sure students aren’t faced with food insecurities.

Campus food pantries, including some that offer fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, are popping up at schools all over the U.S.

For a comprehensive list of examples, click here.

Additionally, programs, such as Swipe Out Hunger, which has students donating extra meal swipes to stock campus food pantries, have gained widespread appeal.

Need to prioritize campus hunger

Food insecurity impedes a student’s ability to focus and learn. How can students effectively study if they are worried about where they are going to get their next meal?

If a student’s family is unable to financially support them, it can be extremely hard to afford the many costs of college. Students coming from less financially-fortunate families should not have to go hungry while working towards their degree.