I recently presented the workshop “Serving students who are experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, and financial crisis” at the California College Personnel Association’s Annual Institute. There were many participants (standing room only), which reflects the increased interest in these topics among student affairs professionals. Many of us are looking for models, methods, and best practices to serve our most vulnerable students.
The research supports that college students face major financial challenges. Food insecurity is common among college students. Further, food insecure students are often housing insecure. Food and housing insecurity negatively affects students’ education. Students who are struggling to meet basic needs experience more stress and frequently work more. This results in greater part-time enrollment, lower GPAs, and often extends their expected date of graduation.
According to the UC Global Food Initiative survey, 19 percent of UC students indicated they had “very low” food security. The USDA defines “very low food security” as experiencing reduced food intake at times due to limited resources. An additional 23 percent were characterized as having “low” food security, defined by the USDA as reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet, with little or no indication of reduced food intake.
The College and University Food Bank Alliance report drew on a survey of almost 3,800 students at 34 community and 4-year colleges across 12 states – the broadest sample to date. The authors found that 22 percent of respondents have the very lowest levels of food insecurity. They also found that 13 percent of students at community colleges are homeless.
An increasing number of campuses have the following types of services:
CalFresh Outreach coordinators who work with local Department Social Services to enroll students by prequalifying students on campus
Emergency grants for students with unexpected expenses which could negatively impact their academics, such as medical bills and car repairs
Emergency housing, which could include on campus options and/or hotel vouchers
Meal vouchers/cards, veggie bucks, or other dollars that can be used to get food on campus
Dining app that tells students when leftover food is available at campus events
Food pantry, as well as pop-up food pantries and food “shelves,” which often include toilettries
EBT card readers on campus to allow students to use CalFresh benefits
Food Bank distribution on campus
Every institution has unique needs, strengths, and weaknesses. One of the challenges of implementing these programs is determining which best meet the needs of the students in your institution AND align with the resources available. Here are some best practices that can be applied to any institution:
A great place to start is by joining the College and University Food Bank Alliance (http://www.cufba.org)
Whether you have existing services or nothing in place, you can begin by surveying students, conducing focus groups, and gathering institutional data, to determine what students need and want
Partner with local agencies
Every campus has different town-gown relationships, but nature partners include faith-based organizations, the Food Bank, local non-profits, and Department of Social Services
Identify engaged faculty
Faculty are often interested in grants, research, and service-learning. Find ways to incorporate these into your basic needs programs and services. Reach out to various departments which may have overlapping interests, such as nutrition and sociology.
Create a working group
Stakeholders may include student leaders, Financial Aid, Dean of Students, Campus Health and Well-Being, Athletics, Campus Dining, and Housing.
- CSU Basic Needs website
- Hunger on Campus– The Challenge of Food Insecurity for College Students
- Landscape Analysis of Emergency Aid Programs, NASPA
- Students Shouldn’t Have to Choose Between Books and Food, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 28, 2016
- University of California, Global Food Initiative, Student Food Access and Security Study
- Wisconsin Hope Lab study
This was originally posted at joympedersen.com.