Report urges U.S. to do more on college hunger
Food insecurity ranges from 9% to more than 50%.
Citing widespread evidence of hunger on college campuses, a new federal report urges 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 fulltime college students from participating in the nutrition Average charge for tuition, fees, room and board at a public four-year college program but allows exceptions. Among them, according to the report, are parents with young children, participants in federal workstudy 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 — which is separate from the nutrition program — often fails to cover college expenses. The maximum Pell Grant this year is $6,095, but that is far less than the typical bill from a four-year college. The average charge for tuition, fees, room and board at a public four-year 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 to pay their bills. Even so, many worry about where their next meal will come from.
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.”
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.”