How Community College Students Experience Food Insecurity

Food insecurity continues to be a significant problem in the U.S. with nearly 12 percent of households unable to procure enough food to feed all members adequately, according to the USDA. On college campuses, that number more than doubles with 25 percent of students reporting low levels of food security.

Three scholars from across CUNY sought to understand the subjective experience of food insecurity among community college students, thereby filling a research gap that until now has concentrated more on statistics. Director of Food Policy Monitor Rositsa T. Ilieva (Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy), Professor Tanzina Ahmed (Kingsborough Community College), and research assistant Anita Yan (Brooklyn College) published their findings in the Journal of Public Affairs.

Surveying 50 undergraduate students about food insecurity, the researchers culled both quantitative and qualitative data. According to their results, almost a third of participants said a meal in the $5 to $9.99 range was “unaffordable.” Instead, they tended to purchase their food from vending machines because of the low cost compared to the higher expense of cafeteria meals.

The researchers concluded that “students’ struggles with food insecurity on campus shape their relationship with the college institution.” Although campuses may offer a food pantry — as the college in the study did — the researchers argued that expensive meal options also communicate “powerful signals” to food-insecure students. “These signals undermined students’ trust in the college institution as well as their ability to use other food-related resources that the campus offers them,” they wrote.

Beyond encouraging college administrators to strengthen their efforts at understanding food insecurity on campus, the researchers also encouraged them to work more closely with public officials to combat the issue. “We often forget that college campuses are a vital part of a city’s urban food system,” Ilieva said in an interview.

Beyond SUM

Work By

Rositsa T. Ilieva  (Director, Food Policy Monitor) | Profile 1
Tanzina Ahmed (Assistant Professor, Behavioral Sciences & Human Services) | Profile 1