EDITORIAL: Students deserve better access to food assistance

It’s not uncommon for college students to hunt under beds and in pockets to scrape together enough change for ramen or macaroni and cheese. What was once seen as a rite of passage for students is now a sign of changing times as many students are going hungry to afford an education. 

In its quadrennial report, the national food bank network Feeding America found 10 percent of its clients, across 200 food banks, are students and 31 percent of households reportedly had to choose between paying for education or food. 

Even student athletes, who often receive a large amount of scholarship money, have complained about lacking money for food in college. In April, former University of Connecticut basketball player Shabazz Napier made national headlines when he said he would sometimes go to bed starving despite having a meal plan provided by the university. 

A recent survey conducted by Western Oregon University found 59 percent of its students are going hungry. The hunger crisis that is seen in U.S. colleges could be explained by the growing number of non-traditional students. No longer is the student population comprised entirely of 18- to 22-year-olds being supported by their parents. 

In its 2013 trend report, The Lawlor Group, a higher education marketing and research firm, predicted a 16 percent increase in enrollment of students between 25 and 34, as well as 17 percent of students 35 and older between 2013 and 2020. 

Many of these students are not only supporting families but also working multiple jobs, with 80 percent of them clocking an average of 19 hours a week, according to a survey by Citigroup. Including savings, loans and income, most parents can only afford to contribute to 37 percent of a student’s education, leaving the rest up to loans or the student. Covering the cost of an education doesn’t leave much for food and some schools are not really helping the situation. 

First year residents at USF are required to purchase a meal plan, which ranges in price between $1,500 and $1,725 for the fall semester alone. The cost of a meal plan is in addition to the Office of Financial Aid’s estimated $3,205 in tuition and fees and $4,700 in room and board per semester. 

It doesn’t help that, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families, most students are ineligible to receive most food assistance benefits unless they are working 20 hours a week, physically or mentally unfit or a single parent. 

Student hunger is a serious issue and one that is going unnoticed. Schools should not require students to indebt themselves further for the sake of purchasing meal plans that are often overpriced. 

Better focus needs to be placed on campus food pantries, and students should be encouraged to take advantage of the resources available to them. 

As a college degree becomes a precondition to almost every job in a nation that is coming out of the worst recession in decades, there should not be a question as to why students are going hungry. What should be questioned is how those students can be helped, and now is the time to start acting.