Ramen and College Hunger
By Charla Irwin-Buncher
We often think of college as a time where small sacrifices are made – eating ramen for dinner or couchsurfing with friends – that lay the foundation for future success. That was true for many of us. But today students are struggling with homelessness and hunger in ways that hurt their ability to learn and threaten their ability to graduate.
Pennsylvania Council on Higher Education (PCHE) and Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank (Food Bank) have completed landmark regional studies, with generous funding from Eden Hall Foundation, of food insecurity and housing insecurity among area college students. The findings are alarming and unfortunately, on par with national findings. Students are struggling to meet some of their most basic needs. Nearly 1 in 3 students struggle to have enough healthy food to eat, and more than 1 in 10 students lacked adequate housing at some point since starting college.
These studies propose unique opportunities for real change if we act together.
Findings about college hunger
When we say the results of The Campus Cupboard Study were staggering, what does that mean? Nearly 30% of college students are food insecure. That’s 1 in 3 college students in our region as compared to 1 in 7 adults. That tells us that the need among college students is more than double that of adults. And, that’s just not acceptable.
And remember, these numbers are in keeping with national statistics. They’re not isolated to only colleges and universities in our region. This is a national issue that we take very seriously locally.
Are these results alarming? Yes. And they are motivating the Food Bank to address this issue in partnership with colleges and universities across the region.
Food insecurity affects college students in so many areas. According to our study, it has caused students to:
o Drop a class
o Miss work
o Miss a class
o Miss study sessions
o Not join in extracurricular activities
o Not buy required textbooks
o It affects job performance, and
o Academic performance suffers
And, food insecurity on college campuses doesn’t discriminate. We heard from athletes, part-time students, married students, international students, veterans, those who are employed full-time, part-time faculty and first-generation college students.
In fact, the highest rates of food insecurity – 40% and up – were among homeless, black, Latino and first-generation college students.
Good new and challenges
There is good news. Many of our colleges and universities have established on-campus food pantries, and many more are in the process of doing so. You can read The Campus Cupboard Study to learn more about several schools and the pantries they’ve established. These include CalU Cupboard at California University, South Campus Cupboard at CCAC, Pitt Pantry at the University of Pittsburgh and Pioneer Pantry at Point Park University.
And more good news is that 70% of students surveyed said that they would use a food pantry.
But some students really struggle to ask for the help they need. Many believe that they should reserve the pantry for others with greater need, and others worry about the stigma around receiving help.
How we can help
The Food Bank is working with schools to erase the statistic of food insecurity on college campuses. We can eliminate food insecurity on these campuses and erase the stigma students feel in getting help. And we can ensure there is enough, so that no student feels like asking for help is taking something someone else needs.
You can help today. Make a gift, volunteer or share this study.