Matthieu J. Landry, Stanford University and Heather Eicher-Miller, Purdue University
When college presidents were asked in the spring of 2020 about what they believed to be the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, hungry college students did not rank highly.
Only 14% of presidents cited food or housing insecurity as their top five concerns.
Of course, these university leaders had many other matters of concern. Some 86% said they were worried about fall enrollments – a concern that has proven to be legitimate, especially in light of the fact that low-income students have dropped out of college as a title called “alarming rates”. “
As researchers specializing in the study of food insecurity, we consider dropout rates to be linked to a host of underlying issues. And not having enough to eat is one of them.
The data supports this view. Signs of this growing problem – known as food insecurity – began to appear as the COVID-19 outbreak began to take its toll.
A spring 2020 report found that 38% of students at four-year universities were food insecure in the previous 30 days. This is an increase of 5 percentage points from 33% in fall 2019.
College students clearly deserve special attention as a group. These rates of food insecurity are more than three times higher than those of all American households, which were estimated at 10.5% in 2019.
Historically, estimates of food insecurity among students have ranged from 10% to 75%, according to 50 studies from U.S. academic institutions conducted from 2009 to before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why is this important
It is not just a matter of stomach rumbling. It is a matter of education and direct health.
When students are not sure if they will be able to get enough food, it can lead to a series of problems that make it harder to stay in school. For example, it can affect school performance and the quality of sleep. It can also lead to poor mental and physical health outcomes for students.
Food insecurity can also disrupt eating habits if there is not enough food or if the variety or quality of what a person eats is low.
Previous strategies by colleges and universities to tackle hunger among their students have varied considerably. They include campus pantries, emergency cash assistance, and nutrition education through non-credit courses or workshops.
These strategies were put to the test during the spring semester of 2020, when nearly three in five students reported struggling to meet their own basic needs during the pandemic.
There has been a surge in demand for college pantries. Others said they received less donated food. This made it even more difficult to meet the growing food needs of the students.
Campus pantries are largely dependent on local or regional food banks, which have faced greater demand than they are able to meet during the pandemic.
The many students who attend university remotely will, of course, have less access to campus resources like pantries.
Other potential ways to get more food are government programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, known as SNAP. However, the majority of able-bodied students are not eligible. Long-standing restrictions, like the college’s SNAP rule, prevent full-time students from receiving these benefits.
Such regulatory barriers have been created on the premise that most students can rely on their parents to get enough food. However, students have very different levels of financial support. Some students can rely on their parents for everything and others cannot rely on their parents for anything.
Reduced reliance on financial support from parents is particularly common for first-generation students and students of color, who now make up 45% of enrolled students.
Under normal circumstances, many students could rely on part-time jobs to pay for their food.
Two-thirds of students who worked before the pandemic said job insecurity was a problem for them, according to the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice #RealCollege survey. While the number of unemployed young Americans remains high, unemployment and underemployment remain a problem.
Unemployed students face a potential double threat of less money for food and unemployment benefits, preventing them from accessing SNAP, as the program requires most students to work at least part-time. .
Attempts have been made at the federal and state levels to meet the basic food needs of students. Lawmakers have focused on temporarily suspending eligibility requirements or expanding the criteria for participation in nutritional assistance programs.
Seventeen bills aimed at tackling student food insecurity were presented to Congress during the 2019-2020 legislative session. However, these proposals have not gained momentum and the four COVID-19 stimulus bills to date have failed to meet the hunger needs of students. Notably, some students were not eligible to personally receive a CARES Act Stimulus Assistance payment because they were claimed as dependents by their parents.
Short term solutions
Universities and colleges can make sure that students are aware of all the resources and services available on campus. They can also potentially help students apply for federal assistance benefits.[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]
Campus pantries are not a fully effective and efficient solution to the extent of college food insecurity, but they can be a good interim solution to increasing access to food for students.
Campuses without a pantry can create one, using resources provided by the Alliance of College and University Food Banks. Schools with pantries may try to get them to reach more students.
Universities and colleges can also build on each other. The Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs is a prime example. It brings together 10 Alabama state universities that work collectively to tackle student food insecurity.
Matthew J. Landry, postdoctoral researcher, Stanford University and Heather Eicher-Miller, Associate Professor of Nutritional Sciences, Purdue University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.