Survey: Food Insecurity Impacts Nearly Half of College Students

Quick Takeaways:

  • Forty-eight percent of survey respondents reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days, including 22 percent who reported levels of food insecurity so low that they qualified as hungry.
  • Seventy-five percent of food-insecure students also received some form of financial aid, including 52 percent who received a Pell Grant and 37 percent who took out student loans during the current academic year.
  • Thirty-two percent of the students who reported food insecurity said problems with hunger or housing have had an impact on their education.

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

A significant number of college students experience some form of food and/or housing insecurity, which many believe has a negative impact on their education, according to a new survey of close to 4,000 college students in 12 states.

The College and University Food Bank Alliance, the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, the Student Government Resource Center, and the Student Public Interest Research Groups partnered to conduct the survey, which was conducted between March and May 2016.

To better understand campus food insecurity and how it impacts students, the groups surveyed 3,765 students in 12 states across eight community colleges and 26 four-year institutions, which represents about 0.5 percent of the students attending those 34 institutions. The survey defines food insecurity as “the lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food.”

Forty-eight percent of respondents reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days, including 22 percent who reported levels of food insecurity so low that they qualified as hungry. Food insecurity was slightly more prevalent among community college students, where 25 percent of students are qualified as hungry compared to only 20 percent at four-year schools. Students of color are also more likely to report food insecurity, including 57 percent of black students compared to 40 percent of non-Hispanic white students. First-generation students and students who had at least one parent who attended college also reported high levels of food insecurity, at 56 percent and 45 percent, respectively.

Seventy-five percent of food-insecure students also received some form of financial aid, including 52 percent who received a Pell Grant and 37 percent who took out student loans during the current academic year. Over half—56 percent—reported having a paying job, including 38 percent who worked 20 hours or more per week.

And while campus meal plans and public assistance programs can be a helpful way to ensure students have access to food, the survey showed that they do not entirely eliminate the threat of food insecurity. Forty-three percent of campus meal plan enrollees at four-year colleges reported experiencing food insecurity. Sixty-one percent of food insecure students said their household had utilized at least one existing aid service in the past 12 months, including 25 percent who said they used the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which was the most widely used food program.

Of the approximately 1,800 students who reported food insecurity, 64 percent also reported experiencing some type of housing insecurity, such as difficulty paying their rent, mortgage, or utility bills. Within the last 12 months, 15 percent of food-insecure students reported experiencing some form of homelessness. Thirteen percent of respondents from community colleges experienced some form of housing insecurity, regardless of food insecurity, compared with only 7 percent of students from four-year schools.

Thirty-two percent of the students who reported food insecurity said problems with hunger or housing have had an impact on their education, including 55 percent who said it has prevented them from purchasing a required textbook. In addition, 55 percent said these problems have caused them to miss a class and 25 percent said they have been forced to drop a class.

The findings of the survey “reinforce the growing understanding that food insecurity presents a serious challenge for today’s college students,” according to the survey. The groups recommend that policymakers improve students’ access to existing federal programs, including expanding the SNAP eligibility requirements for college students, simplifying the FAFSA process, and including food security measurements in the annual National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

To reduce the impact on students’ educations, colleges “should pursue a wide range of creative ways to address food insecurity,” including campus food pantries or coordinating benefits access programs. Several NASFAA member institutions recently shared how they are providing emergency assistance to students facing food and housing insecurity and other personal emergencies. Read what they had to say for ideas on how you can help students on your campus.

 

Publication Date: 10/11/2016


David S | 10/11/2016 1:21:32 PM

Obviously, this problem is rooted in poverty, and as we know, financial aid's ability to provide upward mobility is more long-range...an education provides for a better future, unfortunately, not a more financially secure present.

The thing that confuses me is how "simplifying the FAFSA process" can help. Presumably, those students who have suffered food insecurity are low income, they're attending college, it's very likely that they have completed a FAFSA. Yes, the FAFSA needs to be simplified and many will benefit if that happens, and I acknowledge that I have not had time yet to read the full report, but I would like to learn more about how FAFSA simplification is part of the solution to this particular problem.

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