In Col­lege but Hun­gry and Homeless

Trillions - - Content -

The lat­est report on food and hous­ing in­se­cu­rity from the Wis­con­sin HOPE Lab is dev­as­tat­ing. A sur­vey of 43,000 stu­dents in 66 in­sti­tu­tions in 20 states and the District of Columbia sug­gests that 36% of univer­sity stu­dents lack proper nour­ish­ment or hous­ing or both. For com­mu­nity col­leges, the num­ber is even worse, with 42% of stu­dents suf­fer­ing with­out proper food and 46% homeless.

An­other damn­ing re­sult of the study was that only 48% of the univer­sity stu­dents and 41% of the com­mu­nity col­lege stu­dents sur­veyed felt “com­pletely se­cure.” Those were the lucky ones who had not ex­pe­ri­enced hous­ing or food prob­lems dur­ing the pre­vi­ous 12 months – less than half of all the stu­dents.

This is how the next gen­er­a­tion is mak­ing its way through col­lege.

There are some who might find flaws with the HOPE Lab’s data. It is not based on a proper sta­tis­ti­cal ran­dom sam­pling, and the sur­vey used to gather the data was purely vol­un­tary. So even though it cov­ered 66 col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, 31 of which were com­mu­nity col­leges and the rest four-year col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, and de­spite the 43,000 re­sponses be­ing from across the na­tion, the data likely has some er­rors. But de­spite the is­sues noted, the data does cor­re­late well with other, bet­ter-con­trolled stud­ies. The Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia (UC) sys­tem found that 42% of its stu­dents were food in­se­cure (based on data from the UC Nu­tri­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute), and the par­al­lel Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity (CSU) sys­tem de­ter­mined that 42% of its stu­dents suf­fered from a lack of proper nour­ish­ment. The CSU anal­y­sis also showed that some 11% of the univer­sity’s stu­dents had ex­pe­ri­enced home­less­ness at least once in the pre­vi­ous 12 months.

When such stresses are added to a young per­son’s bur­dens in the al­ready-chal­leng­ing arena of col­lege, the out­comes are not good. Sev­eral stud­ies showed that food in­se­cu­rity is tied to lower grades in col­lege. Other stud­ies showed that hous­ing in­se­cu­rity, man­i­fested in ev­ery­thing from what is coyly re­ferred to as “couch surf­ing” to sleep­ing in a car, stay­ing in a shel­ter or need­ing to sleep out­doors, has a high cor­re­la­tion both with poor grades and the abil­ity to com­plete classes or even grad­u­ate. Re­lated is­sues in­clude poor phys­i­cal health, de­pres­sion and higher stress.

As in many other parts of life, racial char­ac­ter­is­tics have a ma­jor con­nec­tion with the like­li­hood of be­ing ei­ther homeless or food in­se­cure in col­lege. The

HOPE Lab sur­vey sug­gests that black stu­dents are 17 per­cent­age points more likely than non-his­panic white stu­dents to ex­pe­ri­ence food in­se­cu­rity and that home­less­ness is higher for Na­tive Amer­i­can stu­dents than for those in other cat­e­gories.

One sur­vey item showed how im­por­tant the fed­eral Pell Grant is in min­i­miz­ing both food in­se­cu­rity and home­less­ness. Orig­i­nally de­signed to com­pletely cover the costs of col­lege, the Pell Grant showed up as pro­vid­ing “a 14-20 per­cent­age point gap in food and hous­ing in­se­cu­rity and a 4-5 per­cent­age point gap in home­less­ness com­pared to non-pell re­cip­i­ents.” those at risk for home­less­ness or poor nour­ish­ment are also the same ones who tend to work more heav­ily while in col­lege. While this does sup­ple­ment in­come and al­low for a lower like­li­hood of food or hous­ing is­sues, the act of work­ing these longer hours makes it much harder to study ef­fec­tively and achieve good grades in class. This points to a need for other kinds of so­lu­tions than just more lo­cal jobs for stu­dents to deal with the over­all prob­lem.

As to what to do about the prob­lem, there are sev­eral promis­ing op­tions noted in the HOPE Lab study.

One is stu­dent-created pro­grams. These in­clude or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Chal­lah for Hunger, a stu­dent-fo­cused group whose Tem­ple Univer­sity Chap­ter raised over $14,000 for that school. Stu­dents for Stu­dents, also known as the Bruin Shel­ter (af­ter the UCLA mas­cot name), was founded by Louis Tse, who lived in his car while at UCLA to save money to start the shel­ter. And there is also the Hu­man Ser­vices Re­source Cen­ter, which was founded by the As­so­ci­ated Stu­dents of Ore­gon State Univer­sity. It helps with funds for food, a text­book-lend­ing pro­gram and fi­nan­cial strat­egy guid­ance for those strug­gling with the high costs of higher ed­u­ca­tion.

An­other con­cept is stu­dents help­ing oth­ers di­rectly. This in­cludes pro­grams like Donor to Diner, which en­cour­ages stu­dents to do­nate meals through their din­ing cen­ter in a sort of “pass it on” pro­gram. A sim­i­lar pro­gram at UCLA even­tu­ally spread na­tion­wide to in­volve cam­pus food-ser­vice providers in the non­profit called Swipe Out Hunger, which al­lows stu­dents “swip­ing” their food cards to au­to­mat­i­cally pass on funds to oth­ers at the same time.

There are also a grow­ing num­ber of pro­grams in which stu­dents help ed­u­cate and take on ad­vo­cacy roles in lead­ing the charge for help and change on cam­pus. Some col­leges (like El­gin Com­mu­nity Col­lege) put this in place by do­ing their own sur­veys to make sure they are al­ways aware of how big the prob­lems re­ally are.

Au­gus­tana Col­lege has es­tab­lished what is known as the Food Friends pro­gram. Its fac­ulty and other staff are in­volved in help­ing ex­plain the im­pact of food and hous­ing prob­lems on stu­dents’ abil­i­ties to suc­ceed in school. And then there is the Cal­fresh Out­reach pro­gram, which helps stu­dents any­where within the Cal­i­for­nia col­lege and univer­sity sys­tems to learn about what ben­e­fits they are el­i­gi­ble for and how to find help get­ting them.

These are good op­tions, but, un­for­tu­nately, they rep­re­sent mostly patch­work, af­ter-the-fact fixes to a prob­lem that is al­ready out of con­trol. There is a clear need for pro­grams that sup­port and catch stu­dents who are al­ready at risk for the fi­nan­cial and other prob­lems that drive stu­dent food in­se­cu­rity and liv­ing ei­ther on a couch, in a car or on the street. There is a need for ser­vices that are con­sid­ered part of the norm and not some­thing that those who want to make use of them feel ashamed to use. In this cat­e­gory is Amar­illo Col­lege’s Ad­vo­cacy and Re­source Cen­ter (ARC), which uses pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics and a va­ri­ety of tar­geted mar­ket­ing tech­niques to reach stu­dents at risk early on, be­fore their prob­lems snow­ball out of con­trol. Its fa­cil­ity is lo­cated right in the heart of the cam­pus and wel­comes all. An­other pro­gram, Sin­gle Stop, is a na­tion­wide non-profit that helps iden­tify stu­dents who might be el­i­gi­ble for pub­lic ben­e­fits and helps en­sure that those who qual­ify for and de­serve help get it.

The truth of the mat­ter is that while col­lege and univer­sity costs keep ris­ing across the coun­try, the safety nets that used to ex­ist to sup­port those most in need have van­ished over the years. While fed­eral and state sup­ports for cor­po­ra­tions have risen and lower taxes for the rich have spread, there is now less money avail­able for ev­ery­thing from the Pell Grant to other forms of stu­dent aid. The balance has shifted away from sup­port­ing these im­por­tant cit­i­zens of the United States – those who could be­come our busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers – to let­ting way too many of them strug­gle at one of the most crit­i­cal times of their lives. Politi­cians and pol­icy-mak­ers at ev­ery level need to stand up and do some­thing about this prob­lem be­fore it com­pletely over­takes the fu­ture of the coun­try.

The North Amer­ica Procurement Coun­cil is seek­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions in­ter­ested in re­ceiv­ing AMERO grants for stu­dent hous­ing and meals. Grants can be ap­plied for at www.amero­grants.org.

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