The silent challenge of academic success

Judy Raper, Ed.D. | Associate Dean of Student Development, Greenfield Community College
Member of Coalition to End Hunger’s Communication & Education Team

Despite amplified criticism that higher education is “elitist,” nearly every state has cut funding to higher education since 2008. Once viewed as an engine for social mobility, there is now a growing perception that college students are coddled, demanding and among society’s “haves.”
For the past three years, the Wisconsin-based HOPE Lab has conducted a nationwide survey focused on food and housing security among college students. In the most recent Massachusetts survey administered in 2017, 44% of community college students and 33% of four-year college students reported low, or very low, food security during the previous 30 days. Forty-nine percent of community college students reported housing insecurity in the past year, and 38% in the past month. Among four-year college students, these statistics were 32% and 20%, respectively.

As an employee of Greenfield Community College (and previous employee of five other four-year universities and colleges) these statistics are not shocking to me; and they hardly paint a picture of college students as “elite.” While many colleges and universities are attempting to respond to the reality of our students’ complicated lives, shrinking resources create numerous challenges.

GCC was one of the first colleges in the country to establish a food pantry, relying on the generosity of the GCC community (which, to date, has been robust). In 2011, just 15 colleges nationwide registered as having food pantries. Today 641 reported having them.

I believe higher education should be accessible to anyone with a desire to pursue it. Reaching educational goals is a challenge under the best of circumstances. College students should not have to worry about basic needs while pursuing their academic goals in a country as wealthy as ours. The citizens of this country are creative and intelligent problem solvers. Unlike other countries, the U.S. has the resources to house and feed all our citizens. Our will to solve this problem will be directly proportional to our success. It is imperative that we address the stigma related to food insecurity. College students are among those that don’t fit the stereotype for hunger. But this robust, nationwide study informs us that many of our citizens, with great potential to contribute to society, are indeed struggling with access to healthy food.