College alumni often joke about days as a “deprived” undergrad, only eating instant noodles—fast, filling meals on a limited budget—like a badge of honor. Growing numbers of today’s college students, however, embody the literal meaning of “starving” college student. According to the Wall Street Journal:
In 2010, the UC [University of California] system added a food-security question to its biannual student questionnaire. Forty-nine percent of respondents reported skipping meals to save money “occasionally” to “very often.”
Since the UC system currently enrolls 188,300 students within its ten undergraduate campuses, approximately 92,267 students skimp on meals based on financial necessity. Nine of the ten UC campuses operate an on-campus food pantry for students.
Yet, California students are not alone. To serve the growing population of students needing assistance, food pantries are being built on college campuses around the nation, giving away food and other necessities for free.
More than 200 U.S. colleges, mostly public institutions, now operate pantries, and more are on the way, even as the economy rebounds.
Tuition increases, greater enrollment amongst first-generation and students from lower income families, who may not be able to provide additional financial support to their children, as well as a shift in perspective about receiving charitable handouts may explain the increasing need for assistance:
When VCU’s [Virginia Commonwealth University] RamPantry opened last year, demand quickly outstripped supply. “We had assumed a stigma would keep people away, and that just hasn’t been the case,” said Terrence Walker, staff adviser to the student-run pantry.
Regardless of the reasons, students continue seeking help. At University of California, Davis:
As many as 300 students each week visit the pantry, choosing from items that include food and toiletries.
While at University of California, Los Angeles [UCLA], which started its food pantry in 2007, strict anonymity precludes collecting specific numbers served, yet:
“To this day we don’t know who goes in there. We just know we put out food by the hour and it goes,” said Mr. [Antonio] Sandoval, who heads the Community Programs Office that caters to underprivileged students.
In addition, UCLA gave away 3884 meal vouchers for free meals in their dining facilities in the 2014-15 school year. Plus, a church located across the street from the UCLA campus has provided free hot meals and groceries to UCLA students for the last five years.
Similarly, across the country, at Virginia Commonwealth University, community networks beyond the campus also supports more students:
Like many other campus pantries, it has entered partnerships with a local food bank, supermarket, restaurant and farm to collect food and other items, which enable it to supply groceries to up to 100 students a week.
A nationwide organization, the College and University Food Bank Alliance, has also been established to network college food pantries together.
While the primary mission to educate hasn’t changed, colleges are expanding the services beyond the classroom in order to educate students:
The extent of the problem [food insecurity] at colleges is unclear, but it is a growing concern among educators since it can affect academic performance and attendance.
While hard choices come with the endeavor to complete any goal, the question for continuing and future college students, as well as their families, is, “Are the costs of a college degree—measured in dollars and in opportunities—still worthwhile?” In reflecting on the questions, college students can make strategic decisions about their future.
Additional information from As California university costs rise, college students tap food pantries, KPCC, 3/9/2015