Homeless And Hungry Not The Usual Picture of College Students
A new study at North Carolina State University highlights the housing and food security challenges facing many college students across the nation.
The representative survey of undergraduate and graduate students at NC State finds that nearly 10 percent of students experienced an episode of homelessness in the previous year, and more than 14 percent dealt with food insecurity in the previous 30 days.
The study is published in the Journal of College Student Development.
“We knew that our student body was facing these challenges, and that understanding the scope of the problems is a first step toward addressing them,” said first author Dr. Mary Haskett, a professor of psychology at NC State. “We also wanted to contribute to what is a small, but growing, body of work examining food insecurity and homelessness among college students.”
For the study, the research team conducted a survey of 1,923 students. The participants were a representative sample of NC State’s student body, which includes more than 36,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
The researchers found that 9.6 percent of survey respondents reported experiencing an episode of homelessness in the previous 12 months, meaning they had had no place to sleep for at least one night. In addition, 14.8 percent of students reported being food insecure in the previous 30 days.
“Food insecurity is a technical term defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” says Suman Majumder, a Ph.D. student at NC State and co-author of the paper.
“We calculate food insecurity based on a 10-item inventory that was incorporated into the survey. For example, 20.6% of students were worried about not being able to afford food at least some of the time, while 9.9% of students had gone hungry because they couldn’t afford food. By factoring in all 10 items, we arrived at the 14.8% rate of food insecurity.”
Haskett said it can be tricky to put these numbers in context nationally because, while there have been efforts in the nonprofit sector to gather data on college student homelessness and food insecurity, there has been very little peer-reviewed published research on this topic.
“That being said, our rate of homelessness is higher than most other university reports. Our rate is closer to what is reported for community colleges, whose students typically have access to fewer resources,” said Haskett.
“Meanwhile, our rate of food insecurity is somewhat lower than what’s been reported in other studies — but is consistent with the food insecurity numbers for the state of North Carolina as a whole.
“The survey has already helped us make a difference,” Haskett said. “The survey data provided an impetus for the university to launch several new programs — including small grants and meal ‘swipes’ — to assist students with emergency needs.”
Source: North Carolina State University
Pedersen, T. (2020). Homeless And Hungry Not The Usual Picture of College Students. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 4, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/02/05/homeless-and-hungry-not-the-usual-picture-of-college-students/153974.html