A first-of-its-kind study released on April 3, 2018 by Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, is raising a red flag about the increase of food insecurity on college and university campuses across the country. A group of 43,000 students at 66 schools completed the survey which found that 36 percent of all students surveyed have gone an entire day without eating in the past month, do not get enough to eat, and a similar number don’t have a secure place to live. The study emphasized that students classified as having low food security aren’t avoiding the dining hall at school or saving their lunch money to buy beer. They’re skipping meals, or eating smaller meals, because they don’t have enough money for food after paying tuition, buying books and supplies, handling housing costs, utilities, or doing a wash.
Researchers point to increased college costs, inadequate aid packages, growing enrollment among low-income students as some of the factors contributing to food insecurity and hunger on our college campuses. In addition, some colleges are reluctant to admit that they have a huger problem due to the potential loss of donor support and public perceptions about hunger. The University of California found that 40 percent of its students struggle with food insecurity, and at four state universities in Illinois, that figure is 35 percent. For these students, many of the grants and scholarships that they’ve assembled to attend college have not been enough to cover all of their expenses. Students have compensated for this by working several part-time jobs, or attending functions on campus that offer free food or snacks.
This is a problem that has found its way onto the campuses of colleges and universities on Long Island as well. In the past few years, food pantries have been established on the campuses of SUNY Stony Brook, Nassau Community College and Suffolk Community College. In his 2018 executive budget, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has earmarked $1 million to support the development of college-based food pantries throughout the SUNY and CUNY system. The Temple University study reported that membership in the College and University Food Bank Alliance has increased from 15 in 2012 to more than 600 today. Some colleges are now offering more low-cost meal options for students experiencing hunger, and some are handing out free dining hall vouchers to students who need them.
Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank consulted with faculty and students at Nassau Community College during the planning phase of their on-campus food pantry and we can certainly do more to respond to the needs of students experiencing food insecurity. Since current regulations require regional food banks like Long Island Cares to only distribute emergency food to nonprofit, 501c3 organizations, we need to revise these regulations to cover food pantries operated on college campuses so they can order from our comprehensive and healthy state and USDA menus. We also need to convene a work group of college leaders involved in on-campus food pantries to explore how Long Island Cares might be able to supplement the food available at the food pantry by dispatching our mobile pantry and food trucks to campuses where student need is high. In addition, the federal Government Accountability Office is expected to release their own study on the extent of college hunger this fall, which could result in changes to the food stamp program to make it available to low-income college students.
New York State is leading the nation in making higher education available to low-income students. We continue to close the gap for low-income families eligible for SNAP benefits by streamlining the application process. The 2018 budget passed by the state legislature continues the current level of funding for the state’s eight regional food banks in addition to the $1 million proposal for college-based food pantries. College students have enough on their plates with rising tuition costs, securing safe and affordable housing, and completing their coursework while working at least two part-time jobs. The last thing we should add to this equation is hunger.
Originally published in the HIA-LI Reporter, May 2018