With the rising cost of a college education, students across the country are having to make difficult financial decisions when it comes to finding the funding to complete their degrees. That increasingly means students face forced cuts living expenses, including food. And that includes students on Virginia public college campuses.
According to a recent report produced by the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA) and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, the trend of food insecurity is growing among the college student population. The report, titled “Hunger on Campus,” revealed that out of 3,765 students surveyed on 34 college campuses, including Virginia Commonwealth University, 48 percent, or 1,800 students, reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days.
“The rising cost of a college education and the increasing number of nontraditional students mean that more students are living on a shoestring budget,” the report says. “Many of today’s students must find a way to provide for their own living expenses while also paying for their education.”
Food insecure students are those whose quality, variety and desirability of food are negatively impacted as well as those who have face disrupted eating patterns due to limited access to adequate food.
Of the food insecure students in the study, 32 percent believed that hunger or housing problems had an impact on their education. These students reported a range of consequences including:
- 55 percent reported that these problems caused them to not buy a required textbook.
- 53 percent reported missing a class.
- 25 percent reported dropping a class.
And being on a meal plan doesn’t mean students don’t face hunger.
“Among the respondents from four-year colleges, 43 percent of meal plan enrollees still experienced food insecurity,” the report says.
That’s where CUFBA comes in. The organization’s nearly 430 member institutions are combating student hunger with food pantry programs at colleges and universities across the country. Several higher education institutions in Virginia are among those working to end student hunger with food programs on campus, including George Mason University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Old Dominion University and Virginia Tech.
The trend of food insecurity on college campuses is the confluence of a number of factors. More and more college students are working full-time while pursuing their degree to help make ends meet. And those students often cannot afford a variety of healthy food or are one paycheck away from being limited in the food they can buy.
More traditional students have also become more vulnerable to food insecurity. The CUFBA website says “as college costs have risen and wages for the vast majority of workers have remained constant or decreased more ‘traditional’ college students (those who are 18-22) are facing the prospects of less (financial) support from home.”
A recent article in “U.S. News & World Report” asserts that college students are increasingly going hungry to cut costs as they work toward earning a degree. One study cited in the article found that even students from “elite institutions” were struggling to have adequate access to food. Some of those students, the article says, were “turning to off-campus food pantries and sometimes fainting from hunger.”
A December 2016 CNN Money report explores how the cost of college and student loans can affect a student’s budget. According to CNN, the average total cost of public college rose 10 percent over the past five years, while median family income rose about 7 percent during the same period.
With the cost of college continuing to rise faster than annual salaries, students and their families are facing hard choices about how to pay for college and keep costs in check.
Student loan debt in America now exceeds $1.3 trillion – a national embarrassment. We know that this debt figure also includes the outstanding debt of tens of thousands of Virginia students and their families. These examples of Virginia students who are struggling to pay for college should motivate our elected officials, who are currently convening in Richmond for the 2017 General Assembly, to make affordable public education in Virginia a reality this year.
At many Virginia colleges and universities, tuition increases over several years have risen far faster than inflation. It is time for the men and women who govern and manage these schools – along with the legislature that supports them with taxpayer dollars — to ensure affordable excellence at all Virginia institutions.
If you think so, too, contact your legislator to tell them so. To look up your legislator go to www.virginia.gov/services/whos-my-legislator/.