Community Engagement
Fighting hunger on college campuses
Shondra Jenkins
Shondra Jenkins
Executive Director,
Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation

Many of us assume that the most pressing food issue on college campus is student nutrition.  We think of college as a culture of late-night ramen and pizza. But we often forget that many college students don’t have enough to eat at all.

In fact, as many as two out of three students at community colleges are food insecure, according to a March 2017 report from Wisconsin’s HOPE Lab that was sponsored by the Association of Community College Trustees.

This fact shouldn’t surprise us, according to the Atlantic, because nearly half of all high school students in the U.S. qualify for free or reduced priced lunch. But when those same students go to college, there are not as many resources in place to ensure they have enough to eat. In fact, only 29 percent of food insecure students received support from the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), in part because those without children must work 20 hours a week to qualify, the HOPE Lab report said.

Indeed, the issue of hunger on college campuses has been growing for years. In the past decades, colleges have opened the doors to offer opportunity to more students than ever before. At the same time, earning a college degree has become more critical to launching a career. In fact, 65 percent of jobs created in the next ten years are expected to require college study, according to the HOPE Lab report. This is driving more low-income students to attend college than even before.

Since a college degree will open doors to opportunity, many students are spending every penny on tuition–along with housing and other living costs like transportation or childcare–leaving them without enough for food. The HOPE Lab report found that while the rise of tuition costs at public universities has slowed  the cost of living for students continues to rise.

Hunger threatens students’ health and wellbeing, but it also threatens academic achievement. Students who don’t have proper nutrition are less likely to succeed in college. Multiple studies have found a connection between nutrition and performance among college students, and students who struggle to afford a meal are less likely to finish college on time or at all.

Luckily, this issue is starting to gain attention, and many colleges and universities are doing something about it. On-campus food banks are growing across the country. The College and University Food Bank Alliance, which is a network of campus-based organizations that fight hunger, has more than 500 members. At Concordia University, Sodexo employee Vicki Rolph started an emergency food pantry that gives groceries to food insecure students, no questions asked. She also set up a program to help when students run out of money on their meal cards. This year, Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation honored her as a Hero of Everyday Life.

But we need many more people like Vicki if we’re going to solve the problems of hunger on campus.

How are you working to fight hunger in your community? Tell us in the comments.

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