New study finds two-thirds of Community College students are food insecure

By Sam Tarr

April 9 2017: The Massasoit Tribune

The community college experience can be quite different than that of the traditional four-year college student. Factor in commuting to school, working full-time, raising children, caring for families; essentially, they often find themselves managing two separate existences.

Every day, community college students across the country not only worry about keeping their grades up or catching the afternoon but. Some worry about where they are going to sleep that night, or if they’re going to be able to have a hot meal, according to a new study published by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab.

The study, a comprehensive look at food and housing insecurity, shows that the number of students dealing with these immediate concerns is growing, as are the costs of attending higher education.

Titled “Hungry and Homeless in College,” the study surveyed more than 33,000 students across 24 states at 70 different community colleges, asking questions regarding their food and housing security. It is the largest study of its kind, and its conclusions are stunning:

According to the report, two of every three community college students are “food insecure.”

The study also found that half of the community college student body was “housing insecure,” meaning they were forced to move frequently or struggling to afford the costs of rent and utilities, around 14% were homeless.

A group found to be particularly affected were students who were previously in foster care. 30% of those students were experiencing homelessness while attending community colleges, the study found.

“A lot of presidents and boards are not really aware of the scope and magnitude of this problem,” said J. Noah Brown Association of Community College Trustees President and chief executive, to Washington Post reporters.

He said he was also working hard to demonstrate the problem was “pervasive across the country.”

Geography did not seem to be a significant factor in the research. The study showed no direct correlation to whether the homeless student was attending a community college in a rural or urban area.

Public college campuses across Massachusetts have been addressing the problem, with 25 food assistance programs statewide. Massasoit Community College is one of those institutions attempting to tackle the problem.

Patty Lynch, Associate Dean of Experiential Learning and Civic Engagement, acts as the school’s “single point of contact” for homelessness. Students in need can contact Lynch for help, and to be directed to a plethora of resources to aid in their situation.

The “homeless student emergency fund” is open to those “who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” Variations and further explanation of definitions can be found on the website.

Also, since 2013, the Massasoit Food Pantry has been operating to assist students and staff in need of food assistance. The Department of Education has reported that 34% of schools have reported an increase of students utilizing food pantry services. The Massasoit pantry is open during a range of daytime hours throughout the week and is located on the first floor of the Field House.

As always, the Massasoit Food Pantry is seeking donations of non-perishable food items, with various drop-off locations listed on the website. In particular, they’re seeking “peanut butter, tuna, cereal, canned fruit, and ready-to-eat foods (e.g., ravioli or other canned pasta).”

Circumstances such as food insecurity and homelessness can affect student’s ability to stay enrolled in higher education. Linn Torto, who works in the Executive Office of Housing & Human Services, on the Massachusetts Interagency Council on Housing & Homelessness, sees the danger for these insecurities to have lasting impacts.

“My concern,” Torto said, “is that we’re seeing a huge increase in the 18–24 homeless youth population nationally, and I want to make sure that these individuals don’t become the chronically homeless at 50 or 60.”

Massasoit Community College is just one of 25 public colleges in Massachusetts looking to implement programs dealing with the issues of food and housing insecurity among its students. It is an uphill battle as the rates of homeless and food insecure college students continue to rise.

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