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United Way Blog

A Silent Crisis: One-Third of Students Face Hunger, Housing Insecurity

Ramen noodles might be a college diet staple, but for some students, even ramen is unaffordable. Students across all socioeconomic groups are struggling to keep pace with the rising cost of college. Another often ignored, and less discussed, struggle many college students are facing is one that may surprise you: hunger.

A new study published by Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab highlighted a staggering crisis in quantitative measure: 36 percent of college students say they are food insecure, 36 percent say they are housing insecure and 9 percent report being homeless. According to the USDA, food insecurity is defined as having trouble with access to food, anxiety over food sufficiency, a shortage of food in the house, or a disrupted eating pattern and reduced food intake. Similarly, housing insecurity is the lack of appropriate, affordable and stable housing.

How can so many students in college face challenges that many Americans face daily? The price tag that comes with higher education is a big factor. According to the College Board, the average annual cost of tuition and fees at a public university were just under $10,000, while private universities averaged more than $34,000. Add the cost of room and board, can averages more than $10,000 or more a year, and college education is becoming almost unattainable for students whose families are unable to support them financially.

The truth is, few middle- and lower-income students can afford an education that will cost them between $100,000 and $200,000 over the course of four years. And even with financial aid, they’re likely unable to make the total up in grants and scholarships. The Federal Pell grant, for example, awards just $5,920 a year. The average federal work-study job pays less than $3,000 a year. And, according to the College Board, even with additional federal funding, like the Academic Competitiveness Grant, the amounts awarded on an annual basis are less than the average cost of books for a semester.

To address this challenge, colleges and communities are turning to food pantries on campus and supplementary food options to help bridge the gap in the cost of higher education. Some schools have started providing low-cost food options, providing free dining hall vouchers and partnering with local nonprofits to help redistribute unused meals to students on campus who are most in need.

Consider checking in with the student in your life to support them through the changes and challenges they may be facing. For many, just having a friend or family member who can listen to them can help them feel less isolated, alone and vulnerable. Together, communities, schools and organizations can help support students in identifying resources, help, advice and alternative options so that no one goes hungry in pursuit of a degree.

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