Opinions & Editorials

Food for thought

By  Diane Carter


Food insufficiency at two-year community colleges is dangerous because lack of proper nutrition thwarts optimal physical and mental energy needed for the mastery of new academic skills.

At City College of San Francisco, we are dedicated to the development of educational programs for economically challenged students, so if some of these students are food insecure, they may not reach their highest potential academically.

Our new Chancellor, Mark Rocha has said “we have a large amount of homeless students so…I’ve been not just a strong advocate for diversity but for social justice, for actually giving everybody a real opportunity at equality and higher education.”

Real opportunity at equality and higher education is undermined when community college students lack reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food.

Professors in sociology and in social justice often find a correlation between community college and four-year college students who are homeless and those who are food insecure.

 City College along with other community colleges have approximately 13.3 percent of students who experience some degree of food insecurity. This statistic comes from a recent research project by the Urban Institute.

The new study reinforces an earlier perception that community college students and four-year college students all over America go hungry at times in order to pay for rent, tuition, books, and family emergency needs.

According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) “food insecurity is defined as the lack of access at times, to enough nutritious food for (self) and all household members.”

Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University in Philadelphia, surveyed 3,800 college students at 34 community and/or four year colleges across twelve states finding that about 22 percent of the students surveyed had various levels of food insecurity.

These students worry about their food running out before they get money to buy more, and they also worry that the amount of food that they can afford to purchase, will not last from paycheck to paycheck.

Many people in America think that a well off nation like ours need not have 22 percent of its community and four-year college students experiencing reduced access to optimal diets and ideal nutrition. However, access to healthy food and sufficient nutrition is a major economic and social policy issue in the United States.

The new statistics on food insufficiency represent hardships experienced at the present time by college age students in both rural and urban environments.

Increasing awareness of hunger and food insecurity on college campuses has triggered a national conversation about how to overcome the challenges.  It will require joint action by administrators, policy makers, and government agencies to get the problem solved.  It will also require legislative approval of funds for economically challenged post-secondary students.  

Solutions for students who are food insecure including the 13.3% at City College of San Francisco most of whom are low income students include:

Changes to the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to approve food grants to part-time college student workers, especially those who work for less than twenty hours per week.

Consistent assessment of the nutritional needs of our homeless and or transient students so that none of these learners suffer from lack of sufficient  food for themselves or their families.

Recognition by lawmakers and politicians of food insecurity issues especially among ethnic populations at community colleges like City College.

A unified post-secondary approach to nutritional concerns driven by the needs of homeless and low income students at our college and at community and four year colleges in many states.

Illustration by Elena Stuart.
Illustration by Elena Stuart.
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