Hitting the books while hungry
By Katie Burns
One in eight Americans are food insecure, meaning they do not have reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food. Nearly one in seven Ohioans is food insecure. This could be a result of a variety of reasons- from lack of transportation to get to a grocer, to individuals simply not being able to afford fresh foods. There is a population of food insecure individuals that are not getting enough attention; those individuals are college students. Food insecurity can occur both on public campuses and private campuses, and can be an enormous disruption to an individual’s academic career and success. Numerous public campuses have recognized this issue and have implemented on-campus food pantries or other programs to help individuals eat a meal, such as a meal swiping program where students can donate meal swipes to help their peers have access to a meal.
Students can be receiving financial aid, as well as working a job, yet still be facing financial difficulties, often forcing them to skip meals. To qualify for SNAP the household’s income needs to be at or below 130% of the Federal poverty guidelines, or about $13,00 a year for one person. Although college students could be at that level of poverty, there are strict restrictions for students enrolled half-time or more to qualify for SNAP. Financially, students may be eligible, but work requirements to qualify are often a barrier to the typical college students, making it difficult for students to receive assistance.
Most college campuses are equipped with a variety of dining options, such as dining plans and on-campus dining establishments. But there are some issues to that. Even the most basic dining plans, which often don’t include three meals a day, seven days a week, can be expensive, and access to on-campus establishments are sparse during school breaks, when individuals are still living on campus but do not have access to food. Nationally, the average price of a public school dining plan is $4,400 while private universities average at around $5,600. Students have to worry about tuition payment before they can begin worrying about living and food accommodations. While cities have food pantries, students should have access to on-campus food pantries or a food sharing program that will allow them to access food closer to their campus and to their studies.
In our education system, we support free breakfast and lunch programs for kids in elementary and high schools. Why should the support end there? If the awareness of this issue were to increase, perhaps more communities would support a program to continue help college students eat in order to better their academic lives, similar to the support we see in elementary and high schools. Hunger makes it harder to focus, and studies have linked food insecurity to lower graduation rates, so we need to be able to support these students as they get their education.
If these barriers were diminished and the awareness for this issue was raised, more food pantries could open or a swipe sharing program could exist. The average Ohio student leaves college with $30,000 in student loans. Although financial aid and scholarships are available, they no longer can fully support a student due to the rising cost of tuition. Creating a food pantry on-campus, providing regular transportation to a food pantry, and expanding access to SNAP for students will help people continue to achieve their best potential.