Higher education costs raise the risk for food insecurity

Students should not have to choose between success and survival. With exceeding higher education costs, this decision is a harsh reality that many low-income students may face when it comes to managing food insecurity. 

Feeding America, an emergency food service organization, reported that 10 percent of its 46.5 million adult clients in 2014 were enrolled in college. Of those surveyed, 30.5 percent of students confirmed there were times they were made to choose between food and education expenses. Food and nutrition is a basic human necessity. It should not be an optional line item on a student’s budget in their pursuit of higher education.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 41 percent of USF students receive income-based financial aid intended for low-income students. This could mean at least 41 percent of students at USF could face food insecurity while they acquire their college degree. USF does have programs in place to address food insecurity, such as their Feed-a-Bull program or their variety of meal plans for different types of students, but is it enough to effectively reduce the severity of the problem?

With Feeding Tampa Bay reporting that one in seven people in the area are struggling with hunger, it is not likely. Feed-a-Bull is an on-campus food pantry that provides students with a week’s worth of supplemental food — up to 10 pounds — for 10 visits. USF Dining Services features an assortment of meal plans for the assortment of students enrolled at USF; there are plans aimed at first-year students, off-campus or commuter students and even graduate students. But for low-income students, these services may still not fully address their nutritional needs.

Systematic change is required to ensure that all those who go hungry are properly fed. Human necessities are rights, not privileges. Feeding America and Feed-a-Bull are honorable organizations, but charity and donor compassion can only go so far. 

USF Dining Services unlimited meal plan costs $1,869 for one semester. The meal plans prices gradually decline in correspondence with the number of meals a semester or a week allotted for each plan. While there are options for off-campus or commuter students, a $500 to $1,000+ expense is not an easy or feasible commitment to make upfront. Especially if a low-income student is already attempting to juggle tuition and living or commuting costs, paying for food can take a backseat.

Something must give to ensure students do not go hungry. Cost reduction in some area should be made possible, especially for low-income students who already struggle with affording higher education. If tuition costs cannot be cut, then meal plans should be made more accessible to those who can not afford them, whether that means cutting dining costs or allowing students to transfer any unused meals to others. Currently, meals are non-transferable and unused meals do not roll-over into following semesters.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “able-bodied students ages 18 through 49 who are enrolled in college or other institutions of higher education at least half time are not eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” meaning federal law does not allow college students to receive food stamps, unless they participate in work study, work part-time or care for a dependent, as well as other criteria. Since college students face such a high risk of food insecurity, government assistance should be made available to them, regardless of whether they meet a check-list of factors that current legislation deems as eligible for students to eat. 

Higher education is a significant expense that leaves students in debt for years. Some type of degree is almost required to contribute in today’s economy and workforce. Students should not have to go hungry to participate in college or pursue a career. Food insecurity needs to be effectively addressed on an institutional or federal level so students, particularly those of low-income families, can achieve their academic and professional goals.  




Paige Wisniewski is a junior
majoring in interdisciplinary social sciences.