For many college students, healthy and affordable food can be hard to find. / Photo Courtesy of Healthy Aging Poll
A recent study conducted by the Department of Social Work at Millersville University revealed that college students struggle with food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than other demographic groups in the United States.
The research in question, conducted by Dr. Karen Rice and Dr. Jennifer Frank, professors of Social Work at Millersville University, regards poverty and homelessness among college students and related communities, with one shocking statistic coming to the forefront. According to a quantitative survey given to 600 students, this study concluded that a staggering 36.5% of college students – compared to a national average of 11.1% among the general population – struggle with food insecurity. Millersville is not an outlier either – universities across the country also currently experience hunger and poverty among their students, with a similar study recently conducted by nearby West Chester University bearing nearly identical results.
Jennifer Frank, PhD, is one of the masterminds behind this research paper, which is currently under review by the university and the United States Department of Agriculture. Frank’s academic research within her field predominantly focuses on poverty, homelessness, and the needs of marginalized communities, and the courses she offers at the university include Intro to Social Work, Perspectives on Poverty in America, and a graduate-level course on homelessness. In addition to teaching social work courses at Millersville, Frank is also a licensed social worker, a faculty advisor for the Food Recovery Network, and a volunteer with the Loft, a food donation partnership with the Penn Manor School District. Frank also serves on the board for the Hub, which houses both the Campus Cupboard and the Campus Closet.
When asked why college students are especially vulnerable to food insecurity, Frank states, “we are discovering college students as a novel and growing population. When we think of people who are needy, we don’t think of college students. They are often overlooked. The demographics of college students are changing – we have students who are homeless, parents, or adult students. The cost of college and dining is expensive, with some asking themselves ‘what cost can I cut?’ because they are unable to afford the basic necessities.”
According to Frank, her research proves that addressing food insecurity not only helps to satisfy the basic needs and economic well-being of students but also their mental health and overall success in life. When people receive the nutrients and energy they need, they are more likely to perform better academically, while also being sound mentally and emotionally from alleviating the stress of finding when their next meal will be. Because of this conclusion, Frank feels that college campuses need to address food insecurity now more than ever.
“Food is a human right, and people need food to survive,” she states, “we need to stop looking at food as a benefit or privilege.”
Despite the discouraging numbers, access to food and clean water is actually more available than a lot of students might think. Local and national organizations actively work to provide free or affordable accommodations to students, including the Hub in Millersville, Swipe Out Hunger, and the Hope Center in Philadelphia. A roundtable discussion on poverty and homelessness among college students, hosted by Pennsylvania First Lady and hunger prevention advocate Frances Wolf, will also take place at West Chester University later this month. This meeting coincides with the introduction of the Hunger-Free College Campuses Act, a senate bill supported by Wolf’s husband, Gov. Tom Wolf.
In regard to those in need of support, Dr. Frank suggests a wide array of resources for students, both on and off-campus. These include the Campus Cupboard and the Campus Closet, which offer free food and business attire to students, respectively, and are both located at the Hub. In addition, the Loft, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and the Center for Health Education & Promotion are also recommended resources for those who wish to advocate to end food insecurity or struggle with poverty or hunger themselves. Applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and reaching out to United Way are also accessible options for students regardless of where they live or come from.