Many college students struggle with not having enough to eat as they pursue their studies.


To Eat or Not to Eat: That is the Question

The exploding cost of a college education has many questioning the logic of pursuing higher education.

Many college graduates grapple with enormous debt upon entering the workforce.

However, many college students also grapple with deciding whether to eat or not while pursuing that coveted degree.

“I feel like I’m slowly sinking as I am trying to grow,” said Kassandra Montes, a senior at Lehman College in The Bronx, N.Y.

Montes, and countless other students, fit the description of food insecurity.

Food insecurity is having limited or uncertain access to food, and it is very prevalent at colleges across the country.

While some college students dream of finding a lucrative job or a spouse upon graduating, many students aspire for the simple things in life like breakfast, lunch or dinner.

A college student from New York University said that he has become so disoriented with hunger as he walks that he cannot remember where he is going.

Another student from Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y. said that she takes “hunger naps” instead of wrestling with the fact that she has no food to eat.

Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice reported that 45 percent of student respondents from over 100 colleges and universities admitted to food insecurity over the previous month.

Montes had to take out a $5,000 loan to finish her last semester at Lehman College.

She works two-part time jobs.

However, she only budgets $15 per week for food.

The single mother uses the college’s food pantry to get her groceries and often skips breakfast so that her four-year-old son can have enough to eat.

Over 700 campuses now have food pantries.

“The role of a campus food pantry has gone beyond just providing food,” said Sharon Masrour, an organizer for Nassau Empowerment and Support for Tomorrow, a campus food pantry at Nassau Community College in Garden City, N.Y.

“When you’re in a class for, like, three hours, it’s hard to concentrate when you’re hungry.” 

Despite the importance of campus food pantries, schools want to do more to help food insecure students maintain while pursuing higher education.

Many schools have begun recycling leftovers from the school cafeteria and catered events on campus.

A push has become to make certain students eligible for food stamps.

Furthermore, some are calling for changing national and state education funding to include living expenses as well as tuition.

“The hunger movement has been centered around food banks, but that is now changing as people focus on prevention,” said Hope Center founder and Temple University professor, Sara Goldrick-Rab.

The Temple professor knows a little bit about college food insecurity from her undergraduate days.

Goldrick-Rab attended George Washington University for free because her mother worked as adjunct professor at the school in Washington, D.C.

Despite the free tuition, Goldrick-Rab still struggled with putting a roof over her head and food on her table.

She had to take a job working as a waitress for 40 hours a week to pay for rent and food.

“This is the new economics of college,” Goldrick-Rab explained. “Yes, tuition has gone up, but more importantly, the financial supports available to students have not kept up with the cost of living, which has also increased.”

Food insecurity has led to an increase in the college dropout rate, an increase in student debt and forcing students to take on more jobs, which can lead to less academic success because of the time restraints.

“Food was a major obstacle, especially in Manhattan,” said New York University (NYU) student, Calvin Ramsay.

The NYU student said that he has “massive amounts of debt” as he tries to become the first in his family to graduate college.

Although Ramsay needs an additional $40,000 to finish his education, he has limits to what he will get in debt for.

That debt buck stops with food.

Ramsay asked, “Why do I need to go into debt to eat?”

Programs like Share Meals and Swipe Out Hunger allows students to donate their meal card swipes to students in need if they have not taken advantage of all of their meals in the campus dining halls.

One of the largest college dining hall operators, Sodexo USA, has started a program, which alerts students in need of leftover food from catered campus events.

That service is available to all students who attend a college that uses Sodexo USA’s services.

Additionally, the City University of New York has begun bringing fresh produce to students via the urban farm at Kingsborough Community College, which produced 3,000 pounds of vegetables that was given to over 1,000 students.

Moreover, Brooklyn College students that meet certain requirements can pick up a free box of vegetables every week.

“Some faculty members said they have been bringing in granola bars to class in case students needed it,” said Lisa Cathelyn, director of Campus Ministry at Alverno College in Milwaukee.

However, the problem for many college students does not stop with food insecurity.

Housing insecurity, or not having a set residence, also presents a big problem for some college students.

Approximately 56 percent of college students said that they have experienced housing insecurity.

Furthermore, 17 percent of college students said that they had experienced homelessness.


The number of people suffering from housing insecurity varies by race as well.

Approximately 58 percent of African-American college students said that they suffered from housing insecurity.

Half of Hispanic college students said that they suffer from housing insecurity.

And 39 percent of White students said that they suffer from housing insecurity.

And 64 percent of students whose parents did not have a high school diploma experienced housing insecurity.


“Not having enough to eat or not having a safe place to sleep is a distraction,” Goldrick-Rab said. “If you’re couch surfing, I can tell you from interviewing those students, what’s on their mind is, ‘Where am I going to sleep next?’ And that’s not what you want them doing during class.”

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