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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This July, we welcome five new board members to the Challah for Hunger Board of Directors: Jordan and Rachel, student representatives from Stanford and Binghamton, two of our strongest chapters, Caryn, co-founder and alumna of the UCLA chapter, and Michael and Neena, friends of the organization that bring financial and marketing expertise!
We’re so lucky that Nikki Cattan, a recent grad from West Chester University, is spending the summer interning with us! When she started, we asked her…
What brings you to Challah for Hunger?
I learned about Challah for Hunger from the Director of Service-Learning and Volunteer Programs at West Chester University and the leadership summit that will occur in July. I am here to help out with the summit along with other projects for the summer and I am excited to get involved!
You just graduated from West Chester University — Congrats! What advice do you have for students entering college?
Thank you! Get involved in everything you possibly can because it will make your experience so much more fun and memorable.
What’s a cause or non-profit that is important to you? Why?
The education and awareness of HIV/AIDS. In college I participated in the Alternative Spring Break program and we went to Pittsburgh to volunteer with the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force. After that experience, I learned about the virus and the stigma towards people who have it.