According to Students Polled, Food Insecurity on College Campuses Has a Clear and Negative Impact on the Educational Experience
It’s hard to concentrate in class or to focus on your studies when you’re hungry and worried about where you’ll get your next meal. Whether due to nutritional deficits or the stress and distraction of dealing with financial hardship, food insecurity can compromise students’ ability to perform well in their classes. In extreme cases, food insecurity can force students to take time off from school or abandon their education entirely.
In one recent survey of food insecure students conducted by the University of Massachusetts, Boston, 80 percent of respondents reported that their food insecurity affected their class performance. More than 55 percent indicated that food insecurity compromised their ability to attend classes, and four percent stated that they had to forego college for one or more semesters due to food or housing insecurity.
To better understand the extent and consequences of food insecurity for college students, the College and University Food Bank Alliance, the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, the Student Government Resource Center, and the Student Public Interest Research Groups worked together and surveyed college students at 34 community colleges and four-year colleges in 12 states. Their results were compiled in the aptly named report, Hunger on Campus: The Challenge of Food Insecurity for College Students.
In order to measure food insecurity, students who participated in the research study completed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) assessment of hunger by answering a panel of questions regarding their experiences with food in the last 30 days as well as in the last 12 months. Their scores ranked them into one of the categories on the USDA’s food security scale that range from “high food security” to “very low food security”.
Of the food insecure students surveyed for this report, 48 percent of students ranked as food insecure, and 32 percent believed that hunger had an impact on their education. When asked about the impact caused by their food insecurity, 55 percent reported that these problems caused them to not buy a required textbook, 53 percent reported missing a class, and 25 percent reported dropping a class.
With food insecurity a concern for nearly half of college students, helping to alleviate this problem is a clear step toward higher retention rates and overall student achievement.
Thanks to Support from the Anthem Foundation, Virginia’s Community Colleges are Chipping Away at Student Hunger
The Anthem Foundation intimately understands the connections between proper nutrition, good health, and success in education. In April 2019, they contributed $100,000 to the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education (VFCCE) to help alleviate food insecurity for community college students throughout the Commonwealth.
The Immediate Impact of Anthem’s Gift
Thanks to dedicated staff and volunteers, the Anthem Foundation gift to the VFCCE made a considerable difference statewide in little time. This generous contribution was specifically earmarked for use first in the schools with the greatest need: those in Virginia’s Rural Horseshoe Region. In these rural schools with already-established food pantries and other programs to help combat student hunger, funds were able to expand services and provide new options for a variety of levels of food insecurity.
The expansions and creative new facets to existing programs that fight food insecurity made possible by the Anthem Foundation investment include:
- Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC): The existing food pantry at BRCC was fully stocked and grocery gift cards were purchased for student emergency needs. In addition, BRCC was able to implement a Lunch2Go program designed and operated by student volunteers. Approximately 75 lunches are provided each week to students needing a nutritious midday meal while on campus. There are now three locations where students can “Grab and Go” nutritious snacks such as fruit, granola bars, and bottled water.
- Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (DSLCC): DSLCC was able to obtain more partners and resources to stock the campus food pantries with a “Miles for Meals” campaign. This campaign resulted in over 200 bags of food for the pantry. In addition, $2,400 in grocery gift cards were purchased to allow students access to fresh foods.
- Eastern Shore Community College (ESCC): A Healthy Snacks program was established at ESCC where fresh fruits, granola bars, packaged snack mix, cereal, and bottled water are available to students on campus. In addition, a Lunch & Learn program was implemented that provided a hot meal along with an informational speaker and resources such as financial literacy, transfer/advising, financial aid, health and wellness. The number of students taking advantage of these resources has doubled since August 2019.
- Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC): LFCC expanded the food pantry to a second campus in Fauquier County, appropriately named the “Success Station.” There are healthy snacks and grab-and-go items available in the student support lounge. In addition, LFCC was able to provide outreach with a “Welcome Back Breakfast” in August and provide students with information on these available resources.
New food pantries and other creative resources to battle food insecurity have been established at three additional Virginia community colleges in the Rural Horseshoe thanks to support from the Anthem Foundation.
- Danville Community College (DCC): Supplemental funding supported the purchase of the shelving needed to create a space for a new food pantry at DCC and Anthem funds were used to fill them with non-perishable stock. In addition, grocery gift cards were purchased using part of the Anthem Foundation contribution for immediate needs during the establishment of the pantry.
- Rappahannock Community College (RCC): Anthem Foundation funds have been leveraged with other funding to establish a food pantry on the RCC campus. A leadership team of faculty, staff, and student volunteers have designed the program and facility. As with DCC, other funding supported the purchase of shelving and refrigeration. Anthem funds were used to stock the pantry. In addition, a “grab and go” program was established to provide nutritious offerings at more than seven locations including campus and off-site locations.
- Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC): Anthem Foundation funds have been paired with supplemental funding to establish a food pantry on the VHCC campus. A suitable facility has been undergoing renovation, and as with the other colleges, supplemental funding supported renovation expenses, shelving, storage, and refrigeration. Grocery gift cards will support a Thanksgiving outreach so that students and families can obtain fresh nutritious foods for the holiday. The pantry will be fully operational in January 2020.
Student Hunger is an Ongoing Challenge, But You Can Help
Food insecurity in Virginia’s community colleges is a challenge that requires constant attention. The Anthem Foundation’s contribution has enabled over a dozen schools to make great strides in their ability to help students fight hunger, but the need is ongoing.
To help these colleges in their efforts to reduce food insecurity, please consider making a gift to the Virginia Foundation of Community College Education (vfcce.org) or contact the college food pantry in your community about donating non-perishable food items.