“I’m hungry all the time.” It’s a refrain uttered by one surprising group who can’t always afford to eat or have stable housing – college students. The pandemic is exposing a stark reality: more are pursuing degrees with fewer resources.
On college campuses, survey data (PDF) from 38,000 students fielded by The Hope Center in Spring 2020 shows that 38 percent of students at four-year institutions and 44 percent of students at two-year institutions are experiencing food insecurity and 15 percent and 11 percent, respectively, are facing homelessness due to the pandemic. Imagine trying to focus on school when you’re not sure where you’ll find your next meal or if you’ll have a safe place to sleep at night. Sadly, these aren’t academic questions for millions of students. They’re an everyday reality.
Moreover, there are stark racial/ethnic disparities that, if not remedied, will further drive inequities in college attainment. Food insecurity disproportionately affects certain groups of students: first-generation college students, racial/ethnic minority students, international students, those from immigrant backgrounds, those who identified as transgender/gender non-conforming, and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. According to the report, the black/white gap in basic needs insecurity was 19 percentage points.
This January, as our country observes Poverty in America Awareness Month, the plights of millions of students are foremost on our minds. How can higher ed —and those of us who are part of the education ecosystem—tackle poverty and inequality on campus?
With average net tuition prices approaching $15,000 a year for public community colleges and more than $19,000 a year for public four-year institutions (Forbes), even students from middle-class families are hard-pressed to make ends meet. The price of attending college is a leading reason why food and housing insecurity was widespread before the pandemic—and now it is escalating.
But this isn’t the only issue at play. The number of non-traditional college students – those who are older or have families and other obligations – is going up. Government assistance is tough to receive. Students must sometimes make the difficult decision between paying rent or paying tuition, as they don’t have enough money for both – and the meal of the day quickly becomes the old college standby of ramen noodles.
It’s no secret that going to college is expensive, but students shouldn’t have to starve or be homeless to advance their education.
While the problems are stark, many institutions are rising to meet the challenge with food pantries, meal plans, and other hunger and homeless initiatives.
While food pantries at college campuses start to address the issue, we all need to do more. Here’s what you, as a higher education leader, can do.
At Apogee, we just celebrated our third year of employee fundraising for Foster Angels and broke our previous records. Employees are donating $10,400 to help three young adults who are transitioning out of the foster care system into college. There are approximately 650,000 kids in foster care and the odds are stacked against them: 50 percent don’t graduate from high school and less than 15 percent have access to appropriate technology at home. This year, three students are recipients of Apogee employees’ generosity to ensure they start their post-secondary education with the resources they need. They’ve already beaten the odds because they graduated from high school and are among the small group who attend college.
Every young person deserves a shot at a better future, and college is an important launchpad for that future. Let’s join hands and do everything in our power to eradicate college student food and housing insecurity. Let’s ensure that no student who earns passage to a university’s community should be deprived of a meal or bed.