Over One-Third of US Students Don’t Have Enough to Eat

Over One-Third of US Students Don’t Have Enough to Eat

Sabrina Collier

Updated October 4, 2023 Updated October 04

36 percent of students at 66 surveyed institutions don’t get enough food to eat, according to the results of the recent ‘Still Hungry and Homeless in College’ study.

Conducted by researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, the report assessed data from 46,000 students at universities and community colleges and found worrying evidence that around a quarter of students were so food insecure that they felt forced to skip meals or cut the size of their portions, leading to poor nutrition and even weight loss.

The results showed the problem tends to be more severe among community college students, with 42 percent indicating they struggled to get adequate food, and nine percent indicating they’d gone at least one full day without eating in the last month because of poor finances. For four-year university students, the figure was six percent.

Housing insecurity

The report also found that 46 percent of community college students and 36 percent of university students are housing insecure, which means they could be dealing with a large range of housing issues – such as struggling to pay bills, being at risk of eviction, frequently moving homes, or being homeless.

Shockingly, nine percent of university students and 12 percent of community college students reported being homeless at some point in the last year, with three percent of students saying they’ve slept in an abandoned building, car or elsewhere during their studies. 21 percent of these homeless students felt unsafe where they live.

It’s clear that both food and housing insecurities can have serious, detrimental effects on studies as well as health and well-being, with Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of higher-education policy at Temple University and the lead author of the report, telling NPR:

"It really undermines their ability to do well in school. Their grades suffer, their test scores appear to be lower, and overall, their chances of graduating are slimmer. They can barely escape their conditions of poverty long enough to complete their degrees."

Why is this happening, and what can be done?

It’s no secret that living costs and tuition fees in the US are high - according to the latest figures from College Board, students at community colleges (the most affordable option for higher education) will spend an average of $11,970 on tuition fees, room and board each year.

While the results of this survey cannot reflect all students, similar studies show a clear pattern. For example, 40 percent of students in the University of California system have reported being food insecure.

The researchers point out that hunger at university isn’t a new issue, but appears to be “systemic” and getting worse, with increasing college costs and inadequate financial aid packages blamed for the problem. Competition for part-time jobs is also high, making it more difficult for students to self-fund.

And while more lower-income students are attending university thanks to needs-based scholarships and grants, it’s clear that this financial aid is often simply not enough to make ends meet for many students.

Researchers also point out the importance of universities recognizing and responding to the problems of hunger and homelessness faced by their students, particularly as students who face these issues seem to show a great deal of resilience and work just as hard as their peers.

Goldrick-Rab says: “The level of academic effort — in and outside the classroom — is the same regardless of whether or not students are dealing with food and housing insecurity. It’s therefore critically important to match their commitments with supports to ensure degree completion.”

Universities and colleges are already taking steps to help students in need, with financial instability well known as one of the main reasons a student might drop out. Some are offering more low-cost options or free food vouchers in their dining halls, while in New York City, St. John’s University offers an emergency fund that disburses small, one-time grants to students with unforeseen expenses. In Washington D.C, George Washington University has opened a food pantry for in-need students to obtain free food.

However, many advocates are concerned that institutions still aren’t doing enough.

This article was originally published in April 2018 . It was last updated in January 2020

Written by

The former Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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