Among the challenges many postsecondary students face in pursuing and completing their studies is an alarmingly high level of food insecurity. This is the key finding of a new report, based on a survey of almost 3,800 students at 34 two-year and four-year colleges across 12 states. The report defines food insecurity as “the lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food.”
Overall, 48 percent of survey respondents reported food insecurity within the previous 30 days. And, as explained in the report’s preface, “contrary to popular stereotypes, most food insecure students are working and receiving financial aid, and many are on meal plans. Yet relatively few receive food stamps, reinforcing findings from reports by the Center for Law and Social Policy and others that highlight the thin and failing safety net for undergraduates.”
The report’s more detailed findings include the following:
- Twenty-two percent of respondents reported very low levels of food security that qualify them as hungry, including 25 percent at two-year colleges and 20 percent at four-year institutions.
- Food insecurity is more prevalent among the students of color surveyed: 57 percent of African-American students and 56 percent of Hispanic students, compared to 40 percent of non-Hispanic white students.
- More than half of all first-generation students (56 percent) in the survey were food insecure, compared to 45 percent of students who had at least one parent who attended college.
- Among the food-insecure students surveyed, 64 percent reported experiencing some type of housing insecurity — with 15 percent experiencing some form of homelessness in the past 12 months.
- Fifty-six percent of food-insecure students reported having a paying job, 43 percent were on a college meal plan and 75 percent received some form of financial aid.
- Only 25 percent of food-insecure students reported using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.
Food and housing insecurity can have significant consequences for students’ success in their postsecondary studies. For example, the survey found that 55 percent of respondents reported that these problems caused them not to buy a required textbook, 53 percent reported missing a class and 25 percent reported dropping a class. Given these impacts, the report concludes by stressing the need for action plans to immediately address this situation, and offers a number of recommendations for both colleges and policy-makers.