Even before the COVID-19, food insecurity among college and university students was a growing problem. Food insecurity is defined by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.” Although there are no nationally representative estimates of food insecurity among higher-ed students, some recent literature indicates that about 1 in 3 college students experienced food insecurity before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Various factors can contribute to food insecurity among students. These students are more likely to be of a minority background and to have suffered food insecurity as children. A larger number of students are coming to campus from households with incomes at or below the poverty line than ever before. Low-income students often find college meal plans too expensive.
The number of non-traditional college students—those who are older or have families, who work, and have other obligations—is increasing. A significant number of students who worked while attending college have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, stretching their financial resources to a breaking point. Tuition and other expenses—such as textbooks—continue to rise while financial aid falls short, leaving students with a gap between the aid they are receiving and what they need to survive.