Food insecurity or hunger—to call it what it is—on college campuses is an issue that has garnered a lot of attention in the last few years. Cumberland County College is not immune to this problem. As one of the poorest counties in the state, it is not surprising that some of our students struggle to feed themselves and their families. While our data are anecdotal, enough of our faculty and staff report seeing evidence of hunger on campus that we decided to do something about it.
To help our students in need, we recently partnered with F&S Produce CEO Sam Pipitone in establishing a free on-campus Farmer’s Market which provides fresh fruits and vegetables once a week for our students. Food and shelter are basic needs that must be met before we can expect more of our students. Indeed, the K-12 sector realized that long ago and has implemented a variety of programs which go beyond free lunch for qualifying students. College students are no different. It is hard to concentrate, let alone learn, if one is distracted by hunger.
This fall semester, Cumberland County College will participate in a national empirical study on hunger on college campuses. This will provide us with hard numbers on the extent of the problem. Nationally, a 2016 study on the issue reported that about half of college students reported food insecurity in the 30 days prior to being surveyed. First-generation students—that is, those who are the first in their families to go to college—were more likely to go hungry because they could not afford to feed themselves. The study by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger also reported that black and Hispanic students were also more likely than their non-Hispanic white counterparts to experience hunger.
The same study also found that food insecurity was highly correlated with housing insecurity, which is defined as the inability to pay one’s rent, mortgage, or utility bills. At 13%, community college students reported nearly double the rate of four-year university students experiencing housing insecurity.
The study found that more than 50% of students struggling with hunger or housing insecurity reported missing a class, and a quarter of the students dropped a class. Surprisingly, most of these students also have paid employment.
We look forward to having data specifically on our college. In the meantime, it is gratifying to know that we have members of the community willing to lend a hand to those in need, especially those trying to make a better life for themselves by pursuing higher education. Thank you, F&S Produce.
Previously published onon July 3, 2017.