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Challah News

Are we asking the right question?

“No one is counting” refers to the fact that while colleges collect data from students everyday (picture a thick folder of academic transcripts, financial aid forms, etc) one very important question doesn’t get asked: are you struggling to afford or access food?

What data do we collect from college students, particularly students receiving financial aid? Quite a lot.

Every year, the federal government commissions the National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey, which focuses on how students finance their education. Key findings include the socioeconomic backgrounds of students and what percentages of students take out loans and use grants to pay for school.

This survey is the primary source of information used to determine education policy and financial aid programs like the Pell grant. This is why there are serious, potential policy implications for not including a single question about food insecurity. Last summer, the Wisconsin HOPE Lab and American Council on Education Center for Policy Research and Strategy urged the survey’s Technical Review Panel to add this question.

Data collected from this question could change how the public and government understand the needs of today’s college students, and can be used to improve how our country educates and supports the next generation.

CfH leaders in L.A discuss the Campus Hunger Project at a workshop led by CfH and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger staff.
CfH leaders in L.A discuss the Campus Hunger Project at a workshop led by CfH and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger staff.

This month, 24 CfH leaders from Los Angeles and San Francisco area chapters participated in advocacy workshops about campus hunger. The workshops included discussions about how colleges communicate with students about food assistance resources and a presentation by staff from MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger on potential policy responses.

As the semester winds down, CfH leaders are busier than ever. In the past two weeks, CfH leaders at Berkeley, SUNY Binghamton, and Occidental College completed three campus interviews and CfH at USC and UCLA pledged to support the Campus Hunger Project.

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Are college meal plans to blame for campus hunger?

At Virginia Tech University, the cheapest meal plan option for students living on campus is $1,674, which equals about 10 meals a week. At Brown University, a meal plan that provides 7 meals a week for the entire academic year costs nearly $4,000.

It’s not news to us that meal plans range in cost and the number of meals provided. What is surprising to learn is that being enrolled in a meal plan does not eliminate the threat of food insecurity. In a recent survey of 26 four-year colleges and universities, 43% of students with meal plans still experienced food insecurity.

It’s common for colleges to require first year students who live on-campus to purchase meal plans. For many freshmen, living together and going to the dining hall with their peers is a formative part of their social lives. Requiring students to buy meal plans, is of course, great for colleges because housing and meal plans generate revenue.

Today, only 13% of undergraduates live on campus. This seems like a small number, but we can’t ignore that even seemingly “traditional” college students can include students who carefully ration out meals each week, run out of dining points, and turn to friends for help.

Innovative solutions for helping these students have emerged in the past few years. Check out the organization Swipe Out Hunger, which has established systems for students to donate leftover or extra dining points to other students who need them. Systems like theirs provide immediate food assistance to needy students right away. The Campus Hunger Project aims to spread awareness of resources like Swipe’s that students can turn to for help, and longer-term, to advocate for policies that don’t force students to choose between a college degree and their basic needs.
Way to go CfH at Stanford and CfH at Occidental! Two student leaders from these chapters conducted campus interviews with an Assistant Dean and Director of Financial Aid.

Other big news: 27 CfH student leaders are gathering in LA and the Bay Area this November to participate in workshops about the Campus Hunger Project led by CfH and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger staff.

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Look Outside the Classroom

Who besides students and professors are on a college campus every day? Employees. Universities employ anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands of workers.

We got an important wake up call this week when the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College released a survey on food insecurity among employees in the University of California system. The UC system is the 3rd largest employer in the state and employs over 14,000 clerical, administrative and support workers. As their survey shows, more than 2/3 of these workers can’t afford to buy adequate food and are considered food insecure.

It’s important to remember that campus hunger can affect any member of the campus community, from the students sitting inside lecture rooms to the administrative staff working in the office next door.

Why do so many UC employees struggle to afford adequate food? One variable is the high cost of living in many of the counties where the 10 campuses of the UC system are located.

We’ve delved into this issue in previous Campus Hunger Project updates. The competing priorities of paying for rent, mortgages, transportation, utilities, and food force people to choose between covering their basic needs and other urgent expenses.

Now that we know that food insecurity exists on such a widespread level at one of the nation’s largest university systems, we won’t be surprised if similar reports start to come out. This is not an issue in California alone.  

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Student leaders from CfH at University of Massachusetts-Amherst discuss the Campus Hunger Project and strategies for teaching their volunteers about campus hunger.

In the past week, student leaders from CfH at Northwestern pledged their support for this project and a student leader from CfH at Brandeis University conducted an interview with her Office of Financial Aid.

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Our goal is to expand our network to 100 active chapters by the end of the 2016-2017 school year and you can help make this possible!