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New study finds that 36% of college students don’t have enough to eat

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Don Bartletti | Getty Images

College students have a lot to worry about. They need to keep their grades up, they need to fill their resumes and they need to get by on razor-thin budgets.

But these some of these stressors may be even more intense than previously understood. According to a survey released this month by researchers at Temple University and the college affordability-focused Wisconsin HOPE Lab, more than a third of students are struggling with basic needs such as food and housing.

Researchers surveyed 43,000 college students at 66 schools and found that 36 percent of students on U.S. college campuses are considered "food insecure," meaning they do not get enough to eat. Similar studies echo these statistics.

Hunger is a particularly prevalent issue on community college campuses. The study found that 42 percent of community college students were food insecure. On private four-year college campuses, just 14 percent of students were considered food insecure.

One of the biggest issues for students is affording healthy food, with 46 percent of community college students and 40 percent of four-year college students reporting an inability to pay for balanced meals.

University dining hall during lunch
Edmund Sumner/View Pictures/UIG via Getty Images
University dining hall during lunch

Housing is also a major challenge for college students. Researchers found that 36 percent of all college students and 46 percent of community college students were considered to be housing insecure. Nine percent of four-year college students and 12 percent of community college students reported experiencing completely homeless in the past year. Among community college students, 22 percent reported being both food and housing insecure.

Unsurprisingly, when students are forced to worry about when their next meal will be or where they will sleep at night, their academic performances suffer. One study from researchers at the University of Florida found that food insecure students were more likely to have GPAs below a B average.

Food and housing insecurity have also been linked to delayed graduation, which can force students to take on even more debt in order to finish their degrees. In some situations, students are forced to drop out of college and must begin repaying loans without the professional benefits of having an advanced degree.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, lead author of the report, tells the Washington Post that the rising costs of college is just one reason that such high proportions of students lack basic necessities.

According to most recent figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, the cost of college room and board has increased 50 percent over the past 20 years and costs an average of $9,929 for one school year.

"Prices have gone up over time," says Goldrick-Rab. "But the rising price is just a piece. This is a systemic problem."

Another reason that food and housing insecurity has increased among college students is that more low-income students are attending college in the first place — effectively forcing college campuses to face issues related to poverty potentially for the first time.

As the number of poor students on college campuses increases so does competition for on-campus and low-wage jobs, making it more difficult for students to support themselves.

Anthony Abraham Jack, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education tells the Washington Post, "There has been an uptick in low-income students on campus, but there hasn't been a corresponding change in university policy to welcome and prepare for these students."

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