Re­port: More needed to com­bat hunger in col­lege

After re­view­ing two dozen stud­ies of stu­dent ac­cess to food, agency found food in­se­cu­rity rates ranged from 9 per­cent to more than 50 per­cent

Santa Fe New Mexican - - LEARNING - By Nick An­der­son

Cit­ing wide­spread ev­i­dence of hunger on col­lege cam­puses, a fed­eral re­port re­leased Wed­nes­day urged of­fi­cials to work with states and col­leges to help more stu­dents get ac­cess to gov­ern­ment food as­sis­tance.

The Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice, an in­ves­tiga­tive agency that works for Con­gress, found nearly 2 mil­lion stu­dents from low-in­come back­grounds who were po­ten­tially el­i­gi­ble for the fed­eral Sup­ple­men­tal Nu­tri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram in 2016 but did not re­ceive the ben­e­fits.

Con­fu­sion over el­i­gi­bil­ity of­ten hin­ders ac­cess, the GAO found. At nine of 14 col­leges the GAO con­tacted, some of­fi­cials and stu­dents said they were un­fa­mil­iar with the pro­gram or didn’t fully un­der­stand its rules. The re­port rec­om­mended the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment’s Food and Nu­tri­tion Ser­vice clar­ify on its web­site who is el­i­gi­ble and share more in­for­ma­tion on state ef­forts to pro­mote the pro­gram among col­lege stu­dents.

Fed­eral law bars many full-time col­lege stu­dents from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the nu­tri­tion pro­gram but al­lows ex­cep­tions. Among them, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, are par­ents with young chil­dren, par­tic­i­pants in fed­eral work-study pro­grams, re­cip­i­ents of Tem­po­rary As­sis­tance for Needy Fam­i­lies and stu­dents who work at least 20 hours a week.

The GAO re­viewed more than two dozen stud­ies of stu­dent ac­cess to food and found food in­se­cu­rity rates ranged from 9 per­cent to more than 50 per­cent. The data sug­gested the prob­lem was more preva­lent among com­mu­nity col­lege stu­dents than those at four-year col­leges, the re­port said.

Fed­eral stu­dent aid of­ten fails to cover col­lege ex­penses. The max­i­mum Pell Grant this year is $6,095, far less than the typ­i­cal bill from a four-year col­lege. The av­er­age charge for tu­ition, fees, room and board at a pub­lic fouryear col­lege is $21,370, ac­cord­ing to the Col­lege Board.

As a re­sult, many stu­dents must ob­tain grants from col­leges, take out loans and find jobs. Even so, many worry about where their next meal will come from.

Hun­dreds of col­leges have set up cam­pus food pantries to com­bat hunger. Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity in 2016 es­tab­lished a dis­tri­bu­tion point for stu­dents to ob­tain free food, seven days a week, no ques­tions asked.

The GAO found that more than 650 col­leges na­tion­wide had pantries as of Septem­ber or were de­vel­op­ing them.

“De­mand for the food pantry has in­creased ten­fold in the last two years,” one col­lege of­fi­cial told the GAO. “We have far more de­mand than sup­ply. We’re try­ing to get ad­di­tional de­liv­ery days for pro­duce be­cause as soon as pro­duce is stocked it’s gone the same day. The same is true for pro­tein, es­pe­cially frozen chicken.”

The GAO spoke with of­fi­cials at 14 schools, from Cuya­hoga Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Ohio to the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley. Stu­dents shared their wor­ries about food.

“I don’t tell my fam­ily that I’m strug­gling with food be­cause ev­ery­one I know is strug­gling with money — I don’t want to stress them out,” one stu­dent said.

An­other said: “I did not have much money when I started school, and im­me­di­ately had to choose whether to buy food or a $200 book for class. I chose to buy the book.”

One ex­pert on cam­pus hunger hailed the re­port.

“This is an im­por­tant mo­ment for those of us who have been hear­ing about hunger on cam­pus from stu­dents, ad­min­is­tra­tors and fac­ulty for a very long time,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a pro­fes­sor of higher ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy and so­ci­ol­ogy at Tem­ple Univer­sity. “This is the first fed­eral re­port to ac­knowl­edge that cam­pus food in­se­cu­rity is a se­ri­ous chal­lenge, and it’s im­por­tant that this mes­sage is be­ing heard at the fed­eral level.”

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