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.
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.
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.
Last October, we sat down with our partners at MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger to discuss ideas for a new advocacy project. During this meeting, they told us about a growing problem that nobody was talking about: food insecurity on college campuses.
As an organization that has worked with college students for more than a decade, we prided ourselves on being “in the know” when it came to working on campus. We were shocked to learn how widespread this problem is in the United States and quickly realized that if we didn’t have a clue, then our student volunteers, alumni and supporters probably also didn’t know.
This lack of awareness is just one of the reasons we decided to focus our advocacy work on addressing food insecurity on college campuses through the Campus Hunger Project. Over the next year, we are embarking on a research project on 40 campuses to learn if and how colleges are supporting students in need. We’ll use this research to develop recommendations for long terms solutions and work closely with current and new partners to make these solutions a reality.
We are also on a mission to increase awareness about this growing problem. This is where you come in. Whether you are a student, alum, partner, friend or just came across this website when you were looking for challah recipes, you can do something about this problem now. You can become an advocate for this campaign and pledge your support to spread the word to your networks. It’s as simple as clicking here and signing up for our action updates.
Thank you for your support. We look forward to learning with you and sharing our chapters’ progress.
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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!