hungry homeless Wisconsin Hope Lab

Study says that 36% of college students don't have enough to eat

Survey of 43,000 students at 66 campuses says many forgo meals because they can't afford it.

Researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab say that 36 percent of students on U.S. college campuses do not get enough to eat, and a similar number lack a secure place to live.

The Washington Post reports that the survey, Still Hungry and Homeless in College, found that nearly 1 in 10 community college students have gone a whole day without eating in the past month. That number was 6 percent among university students.

Researchers blame rising college costs, inadequate financial aid and growing enrollment among low-income students — as well as some colleges’ unwillingness to admit they have a hunger problem.

College hunger is not a new issue, the report says, butt it appears to be growing worse, and not merely because college is getting more expensive.

"Prices have gone up over time," says Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of higher education policy at Temple and the lead author of the report. "But the rising price is just a piece. This is a systemic problem." 

The findings are based on data collected from 43,000 students at 66 schools. The report used the Department of Agriculture's assessment for measuring hunger. That means the thousands of students it classifies as having "low food security" aren't merely avoiding the dining hall or saving lunch money for beer: They're skipping meals, or eating smaller meals, because they don't have enough money for food.

On top of that, the report found, 46 percent of community college students and 36 percent of university students struggle to pay for housing and utilities. In the past year, 12 percent of community college students and 9 percent of university students have slept in shelters or in places not intended as housing, or did not know from one day to the next where they would sleep.

[Read the report in full.]

The numbers in the survey align with other recent studies of the issue. The University of California has found that 40 percent of its students suffer food insecurity. At four state universities in Illinois, that number is 35 percent.

Some schools have taken steps to address the problem. They have altered their dining plans to cover more meals or to offer more low-cost options, or have begun distributing free dining hall vouchers to students who need them. Others have partnered with nonprofits to redistribute unused meals to hungry students.

Michigan State University, the first school to establish an on-campus pantry, has begun screening students for food insecurity during routine visits to its campus health center. In New York, St. John’s University has started advertising an emergency fund that disburses small, one-time grants to students with unexpected expenses.

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