A new federal study released earlier this week confirmed what people around here already know: Many of the nation’s college students are going hungry.
The report from the U.S Government Accountability Office is actually an amalgam of 31 previous studies on food insecurity among students. The numbers are sobering:
-- 11 percent of households with a student in a four-year college experienced food insecurity. For those in a technical or vocational program, the number was 14 percent, and at community colleges, 17 percent.
The numbers are in line with what local schools reported. A survey at North Shore Community College last year found that a third of the students at the school sometimes go without food, and nearly 70 percent have trouble finding money for food or permanent housing.
“It is time to not only think about tuition and fees but basic needs,” Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College, told Inside Higher Ed after the GAO study was released Wednesday. “That’s why our students are failing out of college. Sometimes they’re choosing between food and books.”
The GAO study also revealed a troubling information gap: There are often resources available to students who need food, but word isn’t getting out. About 2 million at-risk students who qualify for help via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, aren’t receiving benefits. And many are unaware of changing student demographics. Long gone are the days when the typical attendee was a four-year student supported by their parents. More recently, the number of low-income students has grown. In 1996, for example, 28 percent of the student populace had a household income below 130 percent of the federal poverty line. Today, that number tops 40 percent.
There are schools that are grappling with the problem head on. North Shore Community College, for example, has teamed with local food pantries to offer a free mobile food market for students.
Last year, NSCC President Patricia Gentile called the response “incredible.”
“We have nearly 400 people signed up to participate and our students are now enjoying about 3,500 pounds of mostly fresh produce and fruit each market.” The school has also increased programs that offer food vouchers, and has made emergency loans available to students. It’s a clear, strong effort to help make sure every student succeeds, and one that was unimaginable even 10 years ago.
The underlying challenge, of course, is finding a way to control the cost of college so that students don’t have to choose between food and an education. But until then, schools would do well to follow NSCC’s proactive example.