Why Are College Students Struggling with Hunger?

Why Are College Students Struggling with Hunger?

Aug 4, 2022

By: Brittany Myers, Harvest Hope Intern

College years can be a time of incredible highs and lows. They are a journey of self-discovery, a journey of discipline, but also a journey of transition. There are many opportunities that college students intend to take advantage of, like the many resources and events that their respective schools offer so that one can be prepared for their dream career. To balance everything though, a student needs to be as healthy and secure as possible. Unfortunately, that is not the case for everyone.  

Research show that approximately 30% of college students experience food insecurity, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. College students that are enrolled in both two-year and four-year institutions are equally likely to deal with hunger.  

Why aren’t we hearing more about this? Well, there are many misconceptions about the experiences of today’s college students. 

Over 71% of college students are non-traditional. This means that they are usually enrolled in part-time programs with full-time jobs, and often don’t have any dependency on their families. Many college students are also balancing their education with parenting. Low incomes combined with climbing educational costs has made it harder for college students to make ends meet, heightening the possibility of food insecurity. 

While some students can still get by on support provided by families, scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid, others are unable to survive on supplemental income alone. 

There are other factors that affect food security for college students as well: 

Rising Tuition Costs 
Since the start of the pandemic, the federal government has issued numerous refund checks to many college students across the country that has helped to alleviate some financial stress. However, the overall cost of college has increased by over 25% in the last 10 years alone. 

While most students are now working either part-time or full-time jobs in school, tuition with the addition of room and board or rent has become too expensive for students to pay by themselves.  

College meal plans are expensive. 
The average college meal plan costs about $4,500 per year according to an article by the Hechinger Report. Since many institutions require that students who live on campus to have a meal plan, $18.75 a day is expensive when your funds are limited.  

Naturally, preparing your own meals to carry with you throughout the day would be a money-saving tactic. However, many college campuses aren’t always in proximity to affordable grocery options, making it just a little harder for students to receive a balanced and nutritious meal.  

Colleges may not always know that students are going hungry. 
According to Feeding America, school administrators may not always know that students are struggling with hunger. When low-income students are unable to afford a meal plan, they are not likely to be in the dining halls. This means that administrators are usually only exposed to students who can afford to eat on campus and may not be able to grasp the issue of hunger on their campuses. 

So, how is Harvest Hope addressing college hunger? 
Right now, many food banks and pantries nationwide are coming up with strategies to help combat food insecurity on college campuses. Access, awareness, relationships and partnerships, and operations are the categories in which Feeding America has divided up their approach to food insecure college students.  

Direct food distribution is the most common approach to address college student in-need like onsite college pantries or referrals. 

Here in South Carolina, there are many colleges and universities that host food pantries to help the students at their institutions and in their communities. Below is a list of some of the fully realized college food pantries in the state. Be sure to check out their websites for further information on serving locations and hours of operation.  

University of South Carolina: Gamecock Food Pantry 
University of South Carolina – Upstate: The Spartan Pantry 
University of South Carolina- Lancaster: Student Food Pantry 
Clemson University: Paw Pantry  
Lander University: Bear Necessities Food Pantry 
Coastal Carolina: Pack the Pantry 
College of Charleston: Cougar Food Pantry 
Winthrop University: The Food Box 
Claflin University: Panther Pantry 

What can you do to help? 
For students, faculty, and staff, the process of getting involved in combating hunger is simple. They can donate to their local food banks and pantries, pledge to volunteer at those same organizations, organize a food drive, or choose to give monetarily. Further securing commitment from school leaders, engaging the student life/affairs departments, coalitions, task forces, and working groups are all valuable methods at spreading awareness about and mitigating college hunger. 

When college students struggle with food security, they are more likely to have a lower GPA than students who don’t have to worry about accessibility to food. Along with poor academic performance, they are likely to report their health as poor and struggle with their mental health. Socially, they may feel separated from their peers because they don’t have reliable access to the things that they need.

As a society, we should not allow someone’s college journey to be hindered by food insecurity.