With the high prices of college tuition, a growing number of students are experiencing food and housing insecurity in both community colleges and four-year institutions.
Sara Goldrick-Rab, a higher education policy and sociology professor at Temple University, published a study, "Hungry and Homeless in College," which is the largest study about basic need insecurity to date. The electronic survey spanned 70 community colleges in 24 states, covering more than 33,000 students.
The results show the rates of food and housing insecurity in college students are many times higher than those in the average adult population. The findings show that 56 percent of the 33,000 students were food insecure at the low or very lowest levels — meaning they regularly have difficulty accessing nutritious food.
According to the study, about half of students were dealing with housing insecurity — which could be anything from living in an overcrowded apartment to couch surfing. Of these students dealing with housing insecurity, 14 percent were homeless.
Although these studies were conducted in community colleges, Goldrick-Rab said basic needs insecurity is a very serious challenge among college students in four-year institutions as well — including schools such as UNC.
Shawnna Gladney, UNC graduate and co-founder of Carolina Cupboard, said her organization — which provides food at no cost to students — served an average of 20 to 30 individuals on a monthly basis last school year.
Gladney said food insecurity is an issue because of a lack of available and affordable food options in the area. She said she would consider Chapel Hill a food desert because despite having fresh produce within a 10-mile radius, that produce is not affordable for the average college student.
Gladney believes food insecurity is one symptom of a larger systemic issue.
“So you’re looking at an academic institution like UNC, which is 82 percent North Carolinians, including those students from North Carolina public schools where they had free arranged lunch — is it possible for us to expect them to transition from that type of support to a height of a college environment where they’re not getting any kind of support in regards to their food?”
Desirée Rieckenberg, senior associate dean of students at UNC, said in an email these issues are often not talked about because they are personal, although her office does see a number of students facing these issues each semester.
She said students struggling with basic needs are encouraged to connect with the Office of the Dean of Students and that Carolina Cupboard has resources for undergraduates, graduates, staff and faculty.
Gladney said with every step taken to increase awareness about organizations focused on food insecurity, the University does something to negate the activism.
“I think over the past few years, UNC has done a better job of increasing awareness of organizations that advocate for food insecurity," she said. "However, every year, we still see an increase in the cost of meal plans, and we’ve seen a change of the food options on campus, in Lenoir and the bottom of Lenoir — but none of those options have been the most feasible financially for students."
Gladney said the conversation should be about how we can support students holistically who are experiencing food insecurity, since a lack of proper nutrition can affect everything else in their life.
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