The price of college is at an all-time high and only getting higher. Many college students aren’t able to carry a job and attend school full-time, leaving them with limited funds. Often, they find it cheaper to live off-campus to not face on-campus housing and meal plans costs. As a result, college students are going hungry, because when unexpected expenses arise, food is often cut from their budget.
In 2018, Temple University’s Hope Center conducted a study of 86,000 students, learning that half of those surveyed didn’t have reliable access to healthy food. Over a third of the students said in the last year they’d cut the size of their meals, or skipped meals altogether, over a lack of money. Even on-campus, food is only served during specific times, leaving students with class-time conflicts or pressing deadlines at a loss.
According to the Government Accountability Office, 40% of college students are considered low income. This puts them at a much greater risk for food insecurity. And this doesn’t just mean a lack of food, but also a lack of quality. Eating instant ramen for every meal isn’t exactly sustainable or good for one’s health, but many college students live off of ramen and other cheap, microwavable foods because they can’t afford other options.
Some states have government benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Some colleges offer meal share programs that donate unused meal plan credits to those in need.
Several larger campuses have food pantries where students, faculty and community members can donate nonperishable goods, fresh produce and dairy products. Widening this reach is the College and University Food Bank Alliance’s search tool (see below for link) for locating campus food pantries. Students with part-time jobs, who work at least 20 hours a week, can enroll in SNAP benefits, receiving coupons to redeem at grocery stores or convenience stores.
If a student is really in a bind, many colleges offer emergency grants for instances such as needing to leave their current housing situation or losing a source of transportation. Most schools allow appeals for financial aid in the middle of the year for unexpected income changes.
These types of programs are generally student-led in partnership with national programs like Swipe Out Hunger. A study from the organization revealed that during the 2018-2019 school year, 70% of students whose colleges implemented Swipe Out Hunger were significantly less stressed and anxious about where they’d get their next meal. More than half of those who received donated credits reported better grades.
College is stressful enough without the added anxiety of food insecurity, something that can lead many students to fail or drop out of school. Knowing how to access government and non-profit programs resources can go a long way towards ending hunger on-campus.