Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Jahana Hayes are urging Congress to act in response to data that indicates a surprising number of college students go hungry on campus.
They’ve introduced the Closing the College Hunger Gap Act, which would help collect data on food and housing insecurity on college campuses and connect eligible students with resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to combat food insecurity.
“Far too many students are forced to make the unfair decision on whether to eat or get an education,” said Murphy. “Our bill creates a uniform standard for the Department of Education to collect data on students who are experiencing food and housing insecurity, and connect them with the resources they’re eligible for so we can tackle this crisis. Good nutrition is directly correlated to performance and college completion and we need to figure out how we can help students achieve both.”
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and U.S. Representative Jahana Hayes (CT-5), a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor.
“No student should ever have to worry about finding the money to put the next meal on the table while in class. Hungry students don’t learn. I have seen this firsthand,” said Hayes. “This bill takes meaningful steps to alleviate college hunger and raise student awareness about existing supports.”
It’s estimated that 30% of college students are food insecure, which creates a significant barrier to college completion. Students who experience food insecurity report that hunger harms their academic performance, including missing classes and study sessions, opting out of extracurricular activities, forgoing textbooks, or dropping a class.
Since there are no uniform statistics, it’s hard for the federal government to understand the scope of the problem. This bill mandates that the U.S. Department of Education collect data of food and housing insecurity to better address student needs and to connect eligible students with existing resources to combat food insecurity.
Last month, a survey of basic needs security among college students across the United States, which specifically evaluated access to affordable food and housing, revealed an unsettling absence of both at colleges campuses throughout the nation. Nearly 86,000 students participated in the survey at 123 two- and four-year institutions, which concluded that “the scope of the problem is substantial and should be cause for a systemic response.”
The #RealCollege survey was created by, and is administered by, the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice based in Philadelphia. The 50-page report describes the results of the survey, administered in the fall of 2018. Among the findings:
45% of respondents were food insecure in the prior 30 days
56% of respondents were housing insecure in the previous year
17% of respondents were homeless in the previous year
More than half of survey respondents from two-year institutions and 44% of students from four-year institutions worried about running out of food, and nearly half of students could not afford to eat balanced meals.
Connecticut is one of only 11 states that did not have any higher education institutions that chose to participate. That may be changing; officials indicate that participation in the 2019 study is being considered by at least one college or university here, CT by the Numbers reported in June. The survey also found “overlapping challenges” - students who lack resources for housing often also lack resources for food.
Although Connecticut did not participate in the national survey, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy issued a brief report highlighting similar findings in the state. Murphy indicated that:
“At Connecticut’s four-year universities, one report found 17.5 percent of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities’ student body reported housing instability or homelessness. A student survey at the University of Connecticut found that that a quarter of students reported concerns of food insecurity and 30 percent of students reported skipping a meal. Furthermore, a study at Eastern Connecticut State University found that approximately 35 percent of students reported not having access to enough nutritious food and a study at Southern Connecticut State found that about 30 percent of undergraduate college students were food insecure.
Another study looked at rates of housing insecurity at Connecticut’s community colleges. 38 percent of students at Gateway Community College, 21 percent of students at Middlesex Community College, and 19 percent of students at Housatonic Community College have difficulty accessing affordable housing.”