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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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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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Breaking the Silence

When we discussed the Campus Hunger Project with our Challah for Hunger leaders earlier this year, students were often surprised to learn about this issue. We weren’t surprised, and after reading Paul’s story, you’ll understand why. Broadcasting stories about college food insecurity to our personal and larger networks is necessary to reduce the stigma around this issue.

Not all students are as willing to talk as Paul was. Two years after his story was published, there are still food insecure college students who report not only feeling anxious about their financial struggles, but also uncomfortable disclosing their struggle to friends.

An anonymous 21 year old at Pennsylvania State University expressed this concern:“I like to provide for myself…[it]’s the worst feeling you can think of to ask for somebody’s help in your time of struggle.”

The good news is that more college students are breaking the silence. They’re starting to talk publicly about their experiences with hunger and how feelings of shame or isolation prevented them from reaching out for help. By cultivating greater awareness, we can start to build a stronger, more empathetic support network for our students.

Check out the latest action alert from the Campus Hunger Project. 
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Coping with Food Insecurity

Toni Airaksinen (quoted in image) is a Barnard College student and advocate for low-income and first generation college students. She’s written about students who have passed out because of hunger, skipped or cut down on meals, and borrowed money from friends for food.

The cost of tuition and living expenses is a huge factor for students deciding where to attend college. It’s vital they have accurate estimates of the expenses they should expect to pay. This made it all the more shocking when we learned that students can’t depend upon colleges for basic information like the cost of attendance.

The federal definition of the “cost of attendance” (COA) includes the costs of tuition, fees, books, supplies and living expenses like food and rent. However, a recent study of how colleges and universities define COA revealed a significant gap between their estimates and standard cost measures that account for location-specific differences. (For example, average rent and food costs vary tremendously from city to city.)Researchers found that compared to cost measures that take into account these differences, 1/3 of colleges provide families with COA estimates that are off by at least $3,000.

60% of college students that begin a degree graduate within 6 years. For these students, paying a few hundred dollars more a month than they budgeted means cutting other costs like food and books. No one should be forced to make this choice.

Check out the latest action alert from the Campus Hunger Project. 
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Losing the food safety net

There is no single root cause of food insecurity among college students. Food insecurity exists in a tangled web of issues related to income, education, race and class.

Let’s start by looking at the world of higher-education. Today, a college degree is more necessary than ever to secure a job, advance a career, and afford a basic quality of life. Out of the 11.6 million jobs created during the recovery from the 2008 Recession, 99% of those jobs went to those with at least part of a college education.

But the path to a college degree comes with challenges of its own. More than half of K-12 students in America’s public schools (almost 30 million) are low income and eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. For those students that enroll in college, the food insecurity they faced doesn’t disappear when they graduate from high school.

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Defining our terms: What do we mean by campus hunger?

What does the term hunger mean? When we say hunger, we are really talking about food insecurity. Hunger is the craving or physical need for food, and is one of many symptoms of food insecurity.

Food insecurity is more than hunger. College students experiencing food insecurity don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and don’t have the necessary resources, time or money to afford or access food.

College food insecurity is not a new phenomenon. In 1993, the Michigan State University Student Food Bank was founded and became the first campus-based food assistance program in the country. Since then, over 300 colleges and universities are members of the College & University Food Bank Alliance, an organization that supports existing and emerging campus food banks.

Check out the latest action alert from the Campus Hunger Project. 
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The Alumni Giving Circle is back!

The Challah for Hunger Alumni Giving Circle is a group of alumni who will collectively give 1-3 grants to non-profits fighting hunger in local communities. The Alumni Giving Circle will accept nominations from Challah for Hunger alumni, selecting 3-5 semifinalists to research and finally selecting 1-3 grant recipients.

Click here to learn more and nominate a local non-profit in your community! 

Click here to read Giving Circle co-leader Kate Belza’s reflection on the first year of the giving circle experience.