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Food insecurity is a problem for some college students

Besides flunking class exams, hunger or food insecurity is among the problems of some college students, particularly those at two-year campuses or vocational schools, which may hamper their capacity to succeed in college.

Agricultural economist Craig Gundersen from the University of Illinois said that hunger is not a rare concern at two-year or vocational schools because data from their recent research showed that students in such schools are from poorer households in general.

“They don’t have to live on campus in dorms with required meal plans in dining halls. In fact, they are more likely to be still living at home with their parents. If their parents are food insecure, then so are they,” he said in a statement.

Gundersen also saw a greater percentage of students from these schools who go back to school later.

“They are perhaps 25 years old and already heads of their own households, working to pay for their own tuition as well as their own family’s needs,” he said.

Together with his colleagues, Gundersen used records from the October and December supplements to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, which made use of questionnaires to gather information from about 60,000 households nationwide.

The October supplement included questions on education and household members enrolled in school, while the December supplement tackled questions on food insecurity and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously referred to as Food Stamp Program.

To fight food insecurity in the United States, Gundersen thinks SNAP is the best social safety net, which should be extended to college students, specifically those from community colleges.

“Nearly one in five two-year college students live in a food-insecure household, but eligibility and take-up rates among college-age students are low,” he said. “Policy makers may want to consider lowering the minimum number of off-campus work hours that are necessary for otherwise-eligible students to receive SNAP benefits.”

Hunger is definitely not a major concern for students in elite four-year college campuses, according to Gundersen.

“For example, here at Illinois, the median family income is $109,000 and only 6.1 percent of the entire student body are from the bottom twentieth percentile of national income levels. In fact, over half of the students at U of I come from the top 20 percent. I don’t mean to say that none of the students at U of I has this problem, but it is quite rare,” he said.

The real people on elite campuses who struggle with not having enough food at the table are not the students, he revealed.

“…it’s the people cleaning up after our students, cooking, and serving food in the dining halls. Those are the people with low incomes who are at severe danger of food insecurity and have high rates of food insecurity,” he said.

Gundersen said past studies on hunger among college students surveyed college students who come to food pantries and through voluntary surveys online.

Results of past studies showed much higher rates of students being food insecure on four-year schools by as high as 60%.

Gundersen’s team, however, found that their own studies didn’t show numbers as dramatic as that and yet their studies provided more details as to what’s actually happening.

“Some 13 percent of college students at four-year schools are food insecure, which mirrors the national average of the entire population. And 21 percent of students in two-year and vocational schools are food insecure. These data tell a more complete story,” he said.

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