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Study: Almost One in Four Undergrads Experienced Food Insecurity

Significant portions of the college student population have faced food insecurity, according to an analysis of data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 2020 (NPSAS:20).Dr. Tammeil Y. GilkersonDr. Tammeil Y. GilkersonEvergreen Valley College

NPSAS:20 – released earlier this year – offers the first nationally representative data collection about food insecurity and homelessness among U.S. graduate and undergraduate college students, according to Leanne Davis, managing researcher at Education Northwest, an organization committed to advancing equity in education. 

The study is conducted every three to four years by the National Center for Education Statistic (NCES), said NCES statistician Dr. Tracy Hunt-White. The data within is extensive and can be disaggregated based on a number of characteristics, including race, academics, and finances.

Experts and advocates gathered for a webinar late last week to discuss the implications and potential responses to these findings.

According to an analysis by Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, senior fellow for Education Northwest and founder of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, almost one in four undergraduate students (23%) and more than one in 10 graduate students (12%) have experienced food insecurity.

“We can also see that that rate is so much higher for students who identify as Black or African American. In fact, it's 35%,” Goldrick-Rab said. “This is really the first time that we know that this is a leading problem that is affecting very large groups of people who have higher rates of non-completion than others."

Not far behind in terms of facing basic needs insecurity are Native American students (30%), and 25% of Hispanic students, according to Goldrick-Rab. Overall, for-profit schools and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have the highest rates of basic needs insecurity for students.

Additionally, 8% of undergraduates and 5% of graduate students faced homelessness, according to Goldrick-Rab’s analysis.Dr. Sara Goldrick-RabDr. Sara Goldrick-Rab

Education leaders called for continued advocacy and support for students’ basic needs, in addition to the expansion of programs such as the Pell Grant and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefits program.

Those seeking Pell Grant expansion can’t wait around and hope for change, said panelist Dr. Keith Curry, president of Compton College and CEO of the Compton Community College District. They have to advocate."

Curry added: "We can no longer be on the sidelines,” he said, adding that the disaggregation of NPSAS data by race can help discern the well-being of Black students.

Panelist Dr. Tammeil Gilkerson, president of Evergreen Valley College, said that NPSAS:20 allows for better, more focused support.

"To have access to the federal data that can be disaggregated and looked at provides us with a lens to be able to do advocacy on the pieces that we need,” Gilkerson said. “We've come to a point, with the cost of inflation and the things that's going on and the lived experiences that we're all feeling, we know our students are even more unstable these days than they ever have been before."

The maximum $7,395 amount that the current Pell Grant award provides is simply not enough for students to live and operate off of, Gilkerson said, calling for the amount to at least be doubled.

Those issues such as food and housing insecurity and transportation issues may seem “non-academic,” they very much are academic barriers critical to student success, said panelist Dr. Frances Villagran-Glover, president of HCC Southeast College.

Advocates and leaders must help tell the stories of the students represented in the data, said panelist Dr. John B. King, Jr., chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY).

"We have to see this as a moment to organize and to use this data to reach out to, not just legislators, but community leaders who can push legislators to deliver on SNAP expansion, earned income tax credit expansion, and childcare subsidy expansion,” King said.





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