Food insecurity is a problem all over the United States: in 2018 food insecurity affects 1 in 9 Americans. However over the year due to COVID-19 that number has increased to 1 in 4 households in the United States. College students are no exception when it comes to food insecurity. Food insecurity means being without a reliable source of food that is affordable and nutritious.

A study done from 2015 to 2019 shows that between 2 year institutions and 4 year institutions, about 43% of students consider themselves food insecure, which is about four times the food insecurity rate among the general United States population. And you may be wondering how this happens when most college campuses have campus dining halls. Well the answer is actually quite simple: a lot of college students just can’t afford the food. Many college students are coming from families where they are the first generation of college students and don’t have outside monetary support for the extra costs of food on campus. First generation college students of color are at particular at-risk to being food insecure. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this problem more prolific. In 2020 with 18-24 year olds seeing unprecedented rates of unemployment, some college students had to relocate from campus which made it difficult for some to access the meal plans that they had already paid for, leaving them with fewer options and more vulnerable to being food insecure.

However there is some hope for college students. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, has temporarily expanded SNAP to college students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was implemented on January 16, 2021. The new temporary rules expand who is eligible for SNAP: before students were only eligible if they participated in a federally funded work study, however now it has changed to include students who are eligible for work study, along with students who are receiving the maximum amount of the Pell Grant. City of New York University, the University of Washington, and Many more colleges now offering to help students sign up for SNAP. This is a small step in helping to ensure college students have access to affordable and nutritious foods. Food insecurity in students is linked to having higher perceived stress, lower quality in and sleep, and lower grades than students who aren’t food insecure. This is a problem that isn’t going to go away with a temporary solution, and as the cost of tuition continues to rise in this country, there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer on how to tackle food insecurity for college students. If we want to help students succeed academically, we need to help them outside of the academic sphere.

By: Olivia Handman

MEANS Ambassador


Feeding America: What is Food Insecurity

Hope4College: #RealCollege 2020: Five Years of Evidence on Campus Basic Needs Insecurity

Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior: Addressing College Food Insecurity

Journalist Resource: College student hunger: How access to food can impact grades, mental health

NPR: Food Insecurity In The U.S. By The Numbers

USDA: Students and SNAP