Up to half of the nation’s college students might struggle with food insecurity, meaning that they often don’t have access to food. The problem transcends geography, as well as the divides between community colleges and four-year colleges, private and public, elite and non-elite. Researchers still can't measure the full consequences of such rampant food insecurity, but they have linked it to lower graduation rates.
Solutions to the problem will be as varied as the institutions that grapple with it, according to a new white paper by Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Anthony Jack and Cheryl Sternman Rule, the national marketing manager at Bon Appetit Management Company, a food service provider for corporate, university, and nonprofit clients. Rule received her master’s degree from the Harvard Ed School.
Jack focuses his research on low-income undergraduates and has coined two terms to differentiate among them: the “doubly disadvantaged,” students who enter college from typically under-resourced public high schools; and the “privileged poor,” who attended private or preparatory high schools.
Just as it’s useful to differentiate among the challenges that low-income college students face, it’s helpful to recognize distinct types of food insecurity on campuses, Jack says.
“What you find at community colleges and state colleges and other places is chronic food insecurity, where not knowing where their next meal is coming is more of an everyday reality,” he explains. But there’s another type of food insecurity prevalent on campuses, which he refers to as episodic. Even on well-resourced campuses with dining halls, lower-income students often struggle to feed themselves over vacations, notably shorter vacations like Thanksgiving, or over spring break, when dorms and dining halls often close.
“By documenting not just the rates but the difference in nature, we can get a better understanding of the kind of interventions and solutions different colleges can take,” he says.