WTF: 40 Percent Of College Students Worry About Food And Shelter Access

Jaime Oppenheim
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The biggest concern of many college students isn’t whether they’ll pass Organic Chemistry or if they’ll come up with the perfect pun to impress their latest Tinder match.

The biggest concern for many college students is whether or not they can afford food and rent each month.

That’s according to the University of Wisconsin HOPE lab, which recently surveyed 43,000 college students at 66 colleges about how secure they feel in their ability to buy food and pay for rent.

How widespread is this worry? Here are the seven of the most stunning revelations from the survey:

1. 42 percent of students at 2-year institutions have low “food security”

These surveys often act as a reminder that the average college student isn’t an 18-year old, fresh out of high school, waving goodbye to home as they pack up the family car.

In fact, 40 percent of college students in the US are 25 or older. They’ve moved out of their parent’s house, have their own bills and started families. They’re trying to better their lives through two-year programs, and many are worried about their ability to find nutritionally adequate food in a socially acceptable manner.

2. 40 percent of students at 4-year institutions can’t afford to eat “balanced meals”

Martha Dominguez at Unsplash

Food insecurity isn’t limited to those seeking Associate Degrees, however. Two out of five students at 4-year schools said they can’t afford what they consider to be a healthy, balanced diet.

Considering how important a healthy diet is to physical and mental development, it’s surprising how big of a problem this has become. Just as students are investing in their education, so to are the schools investing in their students. Why aren’t schools committed to protecting those investments?

3. More than half of students at both 2-year and 4-year institutions felt either food or housing insecure

Statistically speaking, a college student picked at random is likely to be worried about their ability to feed themselves or have a roof over their heads at some point during the year. That should be an unacceptable fact for a developed country that prides itself on “The American Dream”.

Housing insecurity, as defined by the survey, was anything from struggling to meet rent or utility payments, the need to move frequently due to housing costs, or having more roommates than the house or room was intended to host. That’s a whole lotta headaches for anyone to deal with while trying to pursue their dreams.

4. More than one in five community college students felt both food and housing insecure

Imagine trying to learn computer programming in the afternoon while also trying to figure out how you’re going to eat dinner and where you’re going to sleep in a few hours. Suddenly the missing rogue parenthesis that’s hijacking your program doesn’t seem so important, does it?

5. 24 percent of students surveyed who were in foster care experienced homelessness in the past year

Samuel Holt on Unsplash

This is perhaps a sidebar to the greater discussion at hand, but it’s also a topic that deserves greater attention. It’s a difficult path to college for those individuals who aged out of the foster care system, with only 4 percent graduating from a 4-year college by the time they turn 26 years old.

Those who age out of foster care often don’t have any kind of safety net — through no fault of their own — and these statistics show that we’re not doing a good job of creating one for them.

6. 7 percent of non-Pell recipients experienced homelessness in the past year

The smallest number on this list might also be the most alarming. The Pell Grant is a need-based grant for low-income students that pays up to $6,095 per academic year. If you can’t afford a place to live, you’re most likely going to meet the eligibility criteria to receive a Pell.

Why aren’t these students receiving a Pell Grant — where’s the institutional breakdown? Are they not filing a FAFSA®, are they instead receiving tuition waivers, are their applications caught in the verification process? The answer to these questions could be the key to financial aid reform in this country.

7. More than one in ten college students surveyed experienced homelessness in the past year

The answer to the question, “How much did your education cost you?”, should never be, “The roof over my head.” College may not always be the lone cause of a student’s homelessness, but the rising tuition costs certainly aren’t helping matters.

The blunt reality is we need to do a better job of supporting students.

If they’re willing and able to meet the challenge of higher education, they deserve at least a fighting chance of completing their degrees without having to worry about food and shelter.

What’s your biggest money concern as a student? Let us know on Twitter and Facebook.

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