The Denver Post

Colleges encouraged to aid students on food insecurity, mental health

- By Elizabeth Hernandez Elizabeth Hernandez: 303-954-1311, ehernandez@denverpost.com or @ehernandez

Colorado’s higher education department is pushing the state’s colleges and universiti­es to prioritize better supporting students who are experienci­ng hunger and in need of mental health care by launching a pair of checklists to guide those campuses.

The state’s Healthy Minds and Hunger Free Campus checklists were born out of a collaborat­ion with higher-education administra­tors, students, local government leaders and nonprofit organizati­ons intended to improve the health and academic success of students by ensuring colleges and universiti­es have the resources they need.

“It is startlingl­y clear postsecond­ary students experience extremely high levels of hunger and food insecurity,” said Anya Rose, public policy manager for Hunger Free Colorado, during a Wednesday news conference. “Students struggling with hunger are more likely to miss class … and lack funds to purchase required textbooks. Students facing hunger also deal with higher rates of depression symptoms and are more likely not to complete their studies.”

As The Denver Post reported last year, a 2018 survey administer­ed by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University captured responses about housing and hunger from students at Community College of Denver, Metropolit­an State University of Denver, University of Colorado Denver and the University of Denver.

Forty-one percent of the 3,011 Denver students surveyed said they worried about running out of food before having money to buy more.

To meet the state’s Hunger Free Campus Checklist requiremen­ts, a campus must:

• Run a campus food pantry.

• Provide enrollment assistance for the federal Supplement­al Assistance Nutrition Program.

• Hold an event each year to bring awareness to food insecurity.

• Collect and report data on student food insecurity.

Campuses that meet the checklist must also implement six initiative­s of their choosing from a specified list that includes options such as planting and maintainin­g campus community gardens and screening students for SNAP eligibilit­y during registrati­on.

During the news conference, Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said when consulting with the state’s various college presidents, nearly all of them agreed mental health was the No. 1 concern on their campus.

To meet the state’s Healthy Minds Campus Checklist requiremen­ts, a campus must:

• Include mental health services informatio­n on syllabi and student IDs.

• Offer at least two prevention programs aimed at improving mental health, including options such as yoga, art therapy and nutrition education.

• Hold a mental health awareness event each year.

• Provide avenues to access online mental health support or connect students to community resources.

Campuses that meet the checklist also must implement two programs from a list of choices that includes providing students with a counseling staff directory that indicates counselors’ cultural competenci­es and providing evidence-based mental health training for faculty and staff.

Paccione hopes seven Colorado colleges and universiti­es meet the requiremen­ts by the end of this year.

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