Hun­gry and home­less: This is higher ed­u­ca­tion?

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion -

The be­lief in the value – if not the ne­ces­sity – of a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion has rarely been ques­tioned, and has grown as the work­place has be­come more so­phis­ti­cated tech­ni­cally. It’s only been re­cently that the cost of col­lege has loomed large in our con­ver­sa­tion about ed­u­ca­tion – and with a stag­ger­ing $1.5 tril­lion in tu­ition debt and soar­ing col­lege costs, a break­ing point seems im­mi­nent. This kind of in­fla­tion is not sus­tain­able, es­pe­cially as wages don’t come near to keep­ing pace with costs.

Now a new study opens up another di­men­sion of the high cost of higher ed: re­ports that hunger and home­less­ness are on the rise among col­lege stu­dents.

The Hope Cen­ter for Col­lege, Community and Jus­tice at Tem­ple Univer­sity re­leased a new study this week that found a stag­ger­ing 45 per­cent of stu­dents in col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties na­tion­wide have been food insecure in the past 30 days. Food in­se­cu­rity means that they have ex­pe­ri­enced days when they don’t know where their next meal was com­ing from. And more than half have ex­pe­ri­enced hous­ing in­se­cu­rity.

The re­port sur­veyed 86,000 stu­dents at 123 col­leges across the coun­try, in­clud­ing two-year and four-year in­sti­tu­tions. The sur­vey ques­tioned stu­dents about how they man­age to feed and shel­ter them­selves. A range of ques­tions delved into food is­sues such as “I lost weight be­cause there was not enough money for food” or “I didn’t eat for a whole day be­cause there was not enough money for food.”

These are heartrend­ing state­ments for any­one to make, es­pe­cially any­one who is liv­ing in this wealthy coun­try. But for young adults who are pur­su­ing an ed­u­ca­tion, it’s es­pe­cially poignant. There’s a big leap be­tween the po­etic ver­sion of the poverty of youth and the de­pri­va­tions that can have an im­pact on one’s abil­ity to study or oth­er­wise thrive.

Typ­i­cally, when we con­tem­plate the strug­gles for food or shel­ter that peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence, the de­fault is to call on govern­ment for bet­ter and more in­clu­sive so­lu­tions. It may be tough for some to open that sym­pa­thetic um­brella to in­clude col­lege stu­dents – es­pe­cially since they’re pay­ing for the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing there. But when what they are pay­ing is in­creas­ingly putting col­lege out of reach for so many, we can’t help call­ing this a cri­sis for which schools must take more re­spon­si­bil­ity. The av­er­age cost for a full year of tu­ition at a pub­lic univer­sity is $25,290, and $50,900 for a pri­vate univer­sity.

The study found that stu­dents from low-in­come homes are strug­gling more than oth­ers, with col­lege costs chal­leng­ing their abil­ity to make ends meet. Many of these stu­dents also strug­gle to hold down jobs and sup­port fam­i­lies.

The study points to reme­dies some col­leges are tak­ing, such as help­ing stu­dents ac­cess so­cial ser­vices like food stamps. Many, like Tem­ple, have opened food pantries. The typ­i­cal im­age of a col­lege stu­dent is one who has a sup­port sys­tem to cover ba­sic needs. The study sug­gests we need to re­vise our view of stu­dent life. And so do the in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing that en­roll them.


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