By Hana Newnam
College is supposed to be one of the most exciting and fun times of your life. Yet, for some students, it is full of stress and confusion as they struggle with paying tuition, finding food, and teetering on the edge of poverty.
The price tag for a college education is high, as are the loans that make college possible for the vast majority of students. Campus meal plans and housing add more costs. Everything adds up to an inflated bill that makes it hard to manage basic needs along the way.
Nearly half of students are hungry
The stereotypes of college students “roughing it” and eating cheap, unhealthy foods in bulk such as ramen noodles, mac and cheese, and share-sized bags of Cheetos aren’t just myths. They are the reality for one in two college students dealing with food insecurity. According to College and University Basic Needs Insecurity: A National #RealCollege Survey Report, compiled by The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice this spring, approximately 45% of students at both two-year and four-year schools say their food security is “low” or “very low”.
First-generation students, students who are independent from their family, and students with children are most likely to have higher food insecurity. However, middle-class students who don’t qualify for government financial aid but still struggle to pay out of pocket are suffering as well. Students will wake up and go to class without eating breakfast and later take a nap to ignore the hunger they’re feeling. This isn’t a “rite of passage” that anyone should go through. Yet, it is the reality for struggling young adults across college campuses everywhere.
There are two types of food insecurity: chronic and episodic. The first is when the uncertainty of the next meal is an everyday occurrence. The latter is found with lower-income students who are sufficiently fed on campus while school is open, but struggle to find nourishment during breaks when the dining halls are closed.
Local Campus Response Varies
Luckily there are some solutions to this problem. Food banks are becoming more common on college campuses to help students access canned goods and sometimes personal hygiene items. Here in Charlotte, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College house emergency food pantries on campus for students.
Some schools, including UNC Charlotte, also opt for a program that redistributes unused meal plan dollars to students who need them. SNAP and EBT are other options for students who qualify, and a few campuses are even starting to accept these as forms of payment instead of the pricey meal plans.
These solutions are all temporary, but until we focus on the larger aspect of hunger in our city, students, as well as their families, will still suffer from chronic food insecurity.
To learn more about the emerging problem of hunger on campuses, check out a few of these articles:
- Tuition or Dinner? Nearly Half of College Students Surveyed in a New Report Are Going Hungry, New York Times
- Hunger On College Campuses: Why Are Students In America Going To Class On An Empty Stomach?, Why Hunger
- Millions of College Students Are Going Hungry, The Atlantic
- The Hidden Crisis on College Campuses: Many Students Don’t Have Enough to Eat , The Washington Post
- Fighting Food Insecurity on College Campuses, US News & World Report
Hana Newnam is a rising Junior at Queens University of Charlotte and an Intern with the Marketing Team at Crisis Assistance Ministry. She enjoys learning about social justice and advocacy in order to better educate herself and others on issues in our community.