Senate Democrats Request Study on Food Insecurity and College Students

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

A group of Senate Democrats on Thursday asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study on food insecurity at U.S. colleges and universities.

In the letter, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Edward Markey (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) ask the GAO to examine the extent of food insecurity on campuses across the country, as well as the barriers to addressing food insecurity among college students, and to provide examples of best practices and strategies to alleviate the issue. They also would like the Office to look into local, state, and federal programs currently available to low-income students experiencing food insecurity, how effective these programs are, and areas in which they can be improved.

“Sacrificing food for education can undermine a student’s educational goals and create barriers on their path to obtaining a certificate, degree, or credential,” the senators wrote. “This situation raises concern and deserves greater scrutiny.”

The issue of food insecurity has received growing prominence in the media and is becoming part of the national conversation around college affordability, particularly for low-income students. The letter cited several recent studies on food insecurity and college students, many of which NASFAA has covered in Today’s News.

For example, an October 2016 survey of 26-four year colleges and eight community colleges conducted by a coalition of student groups focused on food security found that 48 percent of students were food-insecure in the 30 days leading up to the survey, 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.

A December 2016 study by the Community College Equity Assessment Lab (CCEAL) at San Diego State University found that about one-third of community college students struggle to meet their most basic needs, such as housing and food security, including a disproportionate number of students who are enrolled in remedial education. According to the report’s data, 32.8 percent of students have experienced housing insecurity, including 31.8 percent of men and 33.9 percent of women. Just over 12 percent of students experienced food insecurity, including 15.4 percent of men and 8.7 percent of women. Just over 23 percent of students who experienced housing insecurity also experienced food insecurity.

And a December 2015 report released by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab found that more than half (52 percent) of their survey respondents had been at least “marginally food insecure” in the last month, saying they couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals, cut the size of meals or skipped meals, or listed other challenges. More than half (52 percent) also said they had experienced some form of housing insecurity in the last year, and 13 percent said they had been homeless. More than one-third of the students who experienced food insecurity (39 percent) said that within the last 30 days, the food they bought didn’t last, and they didn’t have the money to get more. Of those who experienced housing insecurity, 22 percent said they had difficulty paying rent, and 18 percent said they didn’t pay the full amount of the rent that was due. The survey also showed that food insecurity and housing insecurity tended to go hand in hand.


Publication Date: 2/27/2017

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