June 3, 2019

Across the nation, final exams were not the only thing causing stress for college students as the academic year came to an end: too many college students faced food insecurity.

Mounting research demonstrates that the lack of resources to meet basic needs, including food, remains far too prevalent among college students, disrupting their ability to succeed. Previous FRAC analysis highlights how food insecurity among college students is higher than the national average for adults, generally, and this is linked to harmful consequences for health and academic success. New findings from a recent survey conducted by Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice provide even more evidence of this reality. The survey found that

  • just under half of student respondents from over 100 two-year and four-year institutions in the survey were food insecure in the prior 30 days;
  • 7 in 10 surveyed community college students experienced food insecurity, housing insecurity, or homelessness during the previous year; and
  • transgender, gay, lesbian, American Indian, African American or Black, and Hispanic or Latinx students, as well as students with children, students who have been in the foster care system, and students who reported that they had been convicted of a crime, were found to experience higher rates of food insecurity than other student populations.

Additional research shared at a “Restoring the Promise of Community Colleges” event echoed findings from the Hope Center survey. At the event, Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, founder of the Hope Center, presented on the challenges that many college students face when accessing basic needs, noting that, “Regardless of which community college we survey, we find that about 1 in 2 students deals with food insecurity. About 1 in 2 deals with housing insecurity.”

Goldrick-Rab said that solutions for helping struggling college students exist, but there are barriers. “[The U.S. Government Accountability Office] estimated that 57 percent of students at risk for food insecurity were not getting help from [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], a program that exists, and is there, and is set up for this purpose … So the crazy thing is that colleges have trouble connecting students to money that is already on the table.”

On the topic of funding and college students, the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan, progressive think tank, released a report during the “Restoring the Promise of Community Colleges” event that reveals completion rates at community colleges are low because these institutions are deeply underfunded (even as they admit students who are more likely to be socioeconomically disadvantaged than students who attend four-year institutions).

One solution the Century Foundation report proposes is to change how the true cost of educating community college students is calculated. The report suggests that research should separate the costs of direct educational services from costs associated with basic needs (e.g., food, housing, transportation). Such information is crucial for estimating what student success costs, which can prompt policymakers to improve access to the resources that college students need to perform.

This abundance of new research confirms the fact that lack of access to food and other basic needs remains far too high among college students from all walks of life. To ensure our next generation of leaders is properly equipped to navigate the college experience, the U.S. must invest in solutions — from improving access to food and other basics to investing more in the country’s community colleges — that prioritize making sure college students are well-fed, healthy, and able to thrive.

Learn more about food insecurity among college students.