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Students shouldn’t have to choose between class and dinner

Something strange is happening to students in colleges around the country. We’re literally starving.

According to research by Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of education policy and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, more than half of 4,000 surveyed students “struggle with food insecurity.”

Goldrick-Rab’s research also found that 22 percent of surveyed students said they had gone hungry for lack of money. Yet, universities constantly increase tuition, charge sky-high fees and impose meaninglessly strict regulations on students.

USF is a perfect case study in unfair charging and unbalanced student health.

For the 2014-15 school year, USF spent over $39 million on USF Athletics. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to USF, but our two major men’s sports — the big ones that make us money — aren’t exactly thrilling.

Our toddler of a football program is finally learning how to walk again, but the Bulls hardly fill Ray Jay every week during the season, and the basketball team literally won fewer than a quarter of its games. The university shouldn't spend so much time and effort on supporting athletics when the students who are represented by the teams are starving between classes.

What’s worse is that the players aren’t in any better situation. They may have guaranteed meals at USF, but many other schools don’t provide perks like that to student athletes. And even if they have a dining plan, they don’t get a stipend for clothing or transportation, and they aren’t allowed to have jobs.

Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon’s highly publicized lawsuit against the NCAA over neglected compensation for his likeness in a video game called into question some of the organization’s practices.

Amateurism, as they call it, is a convenient excuse to get free labor out of student athletes. As if Steph Curry would play for the Warriors if all they offered him was an all-you-can-eat pass to Golden Corral, a hotel room at the Days Inn and free, mandatory classes for the rest of his career.

USF desperately needs to reconsider its priorities, especially given the fact students are very aware of the food insecurities their peers face. Last year, USF’s Wellness Education, the Office of Student Outreach and Support and Feeding America Tampa Bay opened Feed-A-Bull, a food pantry that exclusively serves the Tampa campus.

Its mission? “to alleviate food hardship by providing supplemental food, nutrition education and campus resources to students in need within the USF Tampa community, in order to promote student success and retention.”

In other words, even in the face of a starving population, the university is still obstinately determined to keep us enrolled for long enough to slap us with a degree and a mountain of debt before the extra charges for classes come in and we’re forced out.

The idea that Feeding America Tampa Bay has to get involved for the university to even try to help students speaks volumes to the real socioeconomic station of the average college student.

Moreover, Feeding America found in a 2014 survey that one in 10 students is going hungry. Additionally, 31 percent of the nearly 4.6 million students who received food assistance from the company in 2014 said they often had to choose between educational expenses and food.

Imagine having to go to Metropolitan Ministries every Thanksgiving just to have a meal because you can’t otherwise afford one. That is the literal everyday life of many college students.

Between exorbitant parking costs, sky-high student fees and hidden charges for everything from one too many classes to those that come with studying abroad, students are stretched way too thin.

The university knows full well that students are starving and it needs to consider spending even a fraction of the money spent on athletics on helping students survive.

Stop playing games, USF. If you can break the rules and illegally shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to former coaches, you can at least pretend you genuinely care even a little about the livelihood of students, rather than our value as customers.