Campus Hunger Project

Student Perspectives: College Meals Plans and Campus Hunger

Lauren is one of five student leaders on the Campus Hunger Project Planning Team. She is a current sophomore and a board member of Challah for Hunger at the University of Vermont. To follow Lauren and the Planning Team’s progress, sign up for monthly updates here.

As a student at the University of Vermont, I have seen many of my peers struggle to budget out their meal plan’s dining points for the semester and end up forced to spend money buying meals outside of the plan or even skip meals if they do not have this money.

This is not just a problem on my campus: according to a recent study, 46% of food insecure college students run out of meal points before the semester is over compared to 33% of all students running out of meal points.

My current meal plan costs $2,061 a semester and comes with 1400 dining points, which averages out to about 90 dining points a week, or a little under $20.11 per day. For one week, I decided to try living off this dining point budget without skipping meals or spending more than 90 points.

By day one I realized that there was no way I was going to stay in this budget if I was only buying prepared food. From the limited grocery section available in the on-campus grocery market I bought cereal, an individual sized milk, rice, frozen broccoli and a small container of sliced chicken breast costing a day’s worth of points. I wanted to make those ingredients last me three days worth of dinner and breakfast and then I could spend the combination of the two other days of points on three days worth of lunches at other markets closer to my classes where I don’t have time to prepare food in between class.

I was able to eat three meals a day for the whole week, but it took a lot of planning and control. The only way I was able to stay within my 90 points was to prepare my own meals from the very limited grocery selection. I was definitely hungry at some points during the day and found myself seeking out free food whenever I could. Snacks were hard to buy as they only sell individually portioned snacks which tends to be pricier than buying a whole package. I found it hard to eat healthy as well, when buying ingredients for dinner my vegetable options were frozen corn or frozen broccoli and my starch options were pasta or white rice. My goal for lunch was to buy whatever would fill me up the most even if it wasn’t a healthy option.

I realized during this week that I am very lucky to have the ability to get food elsewhere if I need it – after just one week eating on this limited budget, I felt more hungry and tired than usual. It was very stressful trying to budget my meal plan and find time every day to cook dinner.

Expensive, mandatory meals plans that don’t provide three meals a day are causing serious health and financial issues for low income students who pay for a required meal plan and can’t afford to buy food elsewhere.

Two organizations are trying to help these students. The nonprofit Swipe Out Hunger allows students to donate meal swipes and points that they do not need to their peers. Over 400 Universities and Colleges as members of the College and University Food Bank Alliance have on campus food banks that allow students to get additional food which can help them spread out their meal plan.

While these resources are very useful to help students get the food they need at the current moment, students at some schools are advocating for more permanent solutions, petitioning the cost, quality, and availability of the food on the meal plan. Here at the University of Vermont a new committee of faculty was formed to investigate these issues further on our campus. These actions are urging policy changes at the university level which is the only way to cause long term change for the food security of students.

Our Latest Update on the Campus Hunger Project

Meet Our Student Planning Team
Alex, UC-Berkeley
Arielle, Colgate University
Bridget, University of Arizona
Lauren R, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Lauren B, University of Vermont

This team is busy teaching other chapter leaders about the Campus Hunger Project, supporting students as they conduct interviews with administrators, and organizing campus events.

Student Perspectives

As students conduct interviews with campus administrators, we are inviting them to share their advocacy experiences. Last week we featured Yvonne and Gerry, students from the Washington University of St. Louis chapter. Click here to Yvonne and Gerry’s story.

Campus Hunger in the News
Stay up to date with the issue. Check out these articles.

Mass. Public Campuses See More Hungry And Homeless Students, January 24, 2017

Did you find an article, podcast, or video related to campus hunger that you’d like to share? Email CfH Program Manager Talia at talia@challahforhunger.org.

Student Perspectives: The Campus Hunger Project

As Challah for Hunger chapter leaders conduct interviews with campus administrators, we are inviting student leaders to share their advocacy experience. Sophomores Gerry and Yvonne are student leaders at the CfH chapter at Washington University of St. Louis, and share their interview experience below. 

Our  interview with an assistant dean in the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs was really enlightening. She shared with us the resources that are available to WashU students who live off-campus and are struggling to access to food. These resources include an emergency fund that students can apply for and a nearby community food pantry. While it was comforting to learn that our school has a protocol in place to help students, we were surprised that knowledge of these resources among the student body is quite low. This inspired our Challah for Hunger chapter to spread awareness of these resources to better support our peers in the WashU community. 

To learn more about the Campus Hunger Project, click here. 

Learning from the Campus Hunger Project

Since the Campus Hunger Project launched this summer, 32 chapters and counting have pledged to participate in the Campus Hunger Project, and our student volunteers have conducted 23 interviews of campus administrators to understand if and how their campuses support those in need. Sumner Schwartz, a junior and Challah for Hunger chapter treasurer at Occidental College, has been very active in the Campus Hunger Project:

Taking part in the Campus Hunger Project has been an eye-opening experience. I have learned so much about not only a problem that both my campus community and colleges around the country face but also how to bring about serious change. It’s been really cool interviewing key administrators–like the Director of Financial Aid and the Vice President of Hospitality Services–and coming up with changes that are going to help my fellow Oxy tigers.

…Through CfH I’ve learned ways to not only combat hunger in my community but how to bring about change. I’m really thankful for the strategies they have shown me in dealing with campus administrators and how to organize my community into creating real change. I know I’ll be able to use these tools and strategies in my future endeavors. 

Click here to learn more about the Campus Hunger Project. 

Why does marketing matter?

Nearly 50% of food insecure students in the University of California system wanted, but didn’t receive, information about who to talk to on their campus about not having enough food according to a recent study. Additionally, 45% of food insecure students didn’t receive but wanted to know locations of food pantries.

Marketing matters. Colleges and universities are starting to test out different advertising strategies for resources like campus food pantries and emergency loans. Some schools are comparing the effectiveness of email blasts, text alerts, and sharing information on school websites. Others are training freshman orientation leaders and residence hall staff to talk about food assistance as another important resource, just like academic counseling or the Health Center, for students to know about.

CfH leaders discuss underlying causes of campus hunger.
CfH leaders discuss underlying causes of campus hunger.

Word of mouth is a powerful and direct way for students to learn about available resources, but there are many other ways to reach students who might not feel comfortable turning to their peers, administrators, or professors for help.

What seems to be an emerging consensus among researchers and policymakers is that there is no “one size fits all” solution to supporting food insecure students. Schools can and should take the important step of testing out different modes of communicating with students.

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CfH leaders discuss possible barriers that food insecure students face in getting the support they need.

It takes courage for CfH chapter leaders to interview campus professionals in high positions and ask tough questions about what their schools are doing to help students who are struggling to afford food.

Over the past few months, CfH participants on 33 campuses took their advocacy work to the next level: they held 23 research interviews, launched important dialogues with their peers, listened to passionate speakers and learned more in-depth about campus hunger. We’re proud of our chapters’ hard work and excited to build on their progress next semester. Stay turned for your next update in January 2017!

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The costs of work

Employment rates for recent college graduates tend to make news headlines. What we read about less often is how many college students are forced to work while in school because of financial need.

Nearly 60% of college students experiencing food insecurity reported having a paying job, according to a study released last month of over 3,700 students in 12 different states.

These students aren’t just working to earn extra spending money. This data provides more proof that a traditional solution for financing college tuition – getting a job – isn’t sufficiently meeting the needs of millions of students today.

Nationally, over three quarters of college students work while in school. This wasn’t always the case. Between the early 1970s and 2000s, the proportion of students combining school and work more than doubled from 12% to 28%. This is in some part because the proportion of high school graduates going to college jumped from 31% to 55%.

Time is valuable. If students have to work to try and cover their basic needs and sometimes even their family’s needs, that means they have less time and energy for class and studying.

In the past two weeks, CfH leaders at University of Pittsburgh and SUNY Binghamton held campus interviews with a Student Affairs administrator and a University President. The Student Planning Team for the Campus Hunger Project has started to wrap up their outreach work for the semester and plan ahead for the spring.

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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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FLIP the Conversation

Please be advised that this video includes references to the extreme measures students are taking due to hunger

You might think that a college student struggling to pay tuition or rent would first ask their family for help. As the video shows, this isn’t always the case. Many low-income college students and students who are the first person in their families to attend college (first-generation) in fact feel a sense of debt and responsibility for their parents. They have far different college experiences than their wealthier peers, even with something as basic as food. A new survey released last week found that food insecurity is more prevalent among first-generation students than students whose parents did attend college, with 56% of first-generation students experiencing food insecurity compared to 45% of their peers with at least one parent who attended college.

The Columbia First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) is the student group behind this week’s video, and the posts read aloud are from an online forum Columbia University students started called “College Confessions.” Because the forum is anonymous, the students featured in the video are reading aloud the words of their peers.

Students at other Ivy Leagues like Harvard and Brown followed suit. Now there are several “College Confessions” pages where students anonymously post about experiencing poverty, food and housing insecurity, and dealing with social stigma from their peers.

Personal stories like posts on College Confession are crucial for publicizing some of the many issues that college students face. Help us reduce the stigma of this “hidden hunger” by sharing some of these stories.

As new research is published, we’re especially proud of our CfH chapters that are educating their peers about this issue. This week, two more CfH chapters at University of Pittsburgh and Washington University of St. Louis pledged their support. Additionally, two student leaders from CfH at Penn State University held interviews with the Office of Student Affairs and Office of Student Aid to learn about hunger on their individual campuses.

Check out the latest action alert from the Campus Hunger Project. 
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