September is Hunger Awareness Month and all across the country, hunger-relief organizations and their supporters are working to provide information to their communities about the long-term effects food insecurity can have on our neighbors. Many would be surprised to find out that food insecurity among college students is on the rise – risking their return on investment and future success due to inability to focus on their studies. Recent studies conducted in Wisconsin, through the Wisconsin Hope Report, highlighted the fact that food and housing insecurity among the nation’s community college students threatens their health and well-being, along with their academic achievements. Addressing these basic needs is critical to ensuring that more students not only start college, but also have the opportunity to complete their degrees and become self-sufficient.
Consistent with prior studies, 48 percent of student respondents to a recent survey reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days, including 22 percent with very low levels of food security. Of these food insecure students, 32 percent believed correctly that hunger or housing problems had an impact on their education. These students reported a range of consequences; 53 percent reported missing a class, 25 percent reported dropping a class, and 88 percent reported that they did not perform as well academically due to these issues.
The survey also found that food insecurity is a problem even for students who are employed, participate in a campus meal plan, or seek other financial or material help. 56 percent of food insecure students surveyed reported having a paying job and of those employed students, 38 percent worked 20 hours or more per week.
Food insecure students struggle to concentrate in class and suffer academically. Since a person with a college degree or vocational certificate is less likely to slip into poverty, providing food assistance to low-income students while they are in school can help prevent students from impoverished backgrounds from dropping out of college and falling into the cycle of poverty.
The San Diego Food Bank started our College Hunger-relief Program with the aim of building capacity on campuses across the county to meet this growing need. We currently work with nine different colleges in San Diego to support each college’s hunger-relief efforts, and we advocate in partnership with the San Diego Hunger Coalition for policies to improve the accessibility and utilization of CalFresh (formerly Food Stamps) benefits on campus. Over the past 2 years, we have advocated alongside Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s office to pass state legislation clarifying the use of CalFresh on campuses and creating a funding structure for colleges to collaborate with food banks to serve their students.
For more information about San Diego Hunger Awareness Month, visit www.sandiegofoodbank.org/hunger or learn how to become a Hunger Free advocate through the San Diego Hunger Coalition by clicking here.