The Unspoken Dilemma College Students Encounter

October 30, 2018

The cost of college tuition has risen significantly over the last 20 years – 100% to be exact, as reported by the Washington Post. As students embark on a journey to further their education, they often come face-to-face with the reality of expenses they’ll incur along the way. Textbooks, lab fees, housing deposits, and other non-tuition related costs are just a few items students will likely have to pay for out of pocket.

One expense effecting millions of students is the cost of food. A recent study conducted by the Wisconsin Hope Lab found 36 percent of students at 66 surveyed colleges and universities do not get enough to eat. Food insecurity is a systemic problem on college campuses as students often have to choose between important expenses such as paying for textbooks or a meal. Capital Partners for Education (CPE) surveyed its college students this year and found that more students than expected reported having to make tradeoffs in their food selection, having to borrow food from friends, or having to skip meals entirely. The survey reported 72% having had to skip meals due to insufficient funds, and 21% of students said that they didn’t always have enough to eat during the week.

A CPE student took a Resident Advisor (RA) position at his college as a way of minimizing other expenses, only to find that an RA meal plan is limited to fewer than the meals he would have received under his normal plan. He ultimately paid the difference to upgrade to an unlimited plan. Another student mentioned that her school’s dining hall hours don’t align with when she gets off work. Both of these challenges show that many of the things CPE’s students are doing in order to afford college actually make their access to food more difficult.

Recognizing this is a widespread concern impacting student outcomes, many are taking the initiative to lead efforts that help combat the issue of food insecurity. Some colleges and universities are getting involved by providing food pantry programs and emergency aid to students who are in need of food. Last fall, NewsOne covered a story about students from Spellman and Morehouse University going on a hunger strike to advocate for a “swipe” sharing procedure that would allow students who have access to a meal plan card to share it with those who don’t.

CPE college student Nate Green, who attends Morehouse University, participated in this hunger strike. For 12 days, he advocated with others for students without meal plans who weren’t able to be swiped into the cafeteria with students who did have a meal plan. The university finally created a program called share a meal swipe. In addition, through the Joseph E Lowery institute there is a food pantry called “Mimi’s Pantry.” They provide a week’s worth of food every week to students who do not have a meal plan at all three schools (Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University). The pantry has grown tremendously and now serves over 500 students.

As the total cost of attendance at U.S. colleges and universities continues to rise, CPE college students occasionally have to discontinue their studies due to expenses they are unable to meet. Such expenses include fees for books, computer labs, supplies, and other surcharges imposed by the institutions above and beyond tuition and room and board. CPE makes “emergency funds” (mini-grants) available to students to cover the cost of housing, school fees, food, and supplies for those who face unexpected financial setbacks. CPE high school students often need help affording eyeglasses to see the blackboard, graphing calculators required for class, and other costs critical to their success in school. Emergency funds allow students to continue their education uninterrupted when financial crisis arise.

Last year on #GivingTuesday, CPE raised over $6,600 for emergency funds. This year, our goal is to raise $10,000 to help support CPE students with financial assistance for a variety of items their scholarships and financial aid don’t cover. Students aren’t able to thrive academically if their basic needs aren’t met. We invite you to join us on November 27th for #GivingTuesday, an international day of giving, to donate toward a cause that will help CPE students continue on their path to success.