Vanessa Opinion 2019

The stereotype of 18-year-olds off to college ‘just having fun’ could be hurting the average university student who is working and/or raising children, and struggling to secure food and housing while getting an education.

A 2018 report compiled by the Government Accountability Office found that nearly 2 million US students may be eligible for, yet are not receiving, government food assistance. Of low-income students with additional risk factors, including being a first-generation college student or a single parent, 57% did not report participation in the food stamp program.

Income and risk factors aside, a survey of 43,000 students across the country conducted by Temple University’s Wisconsin HOPE Lab, found that more than one-third of students at four-year schools, and 45% of students at community colleges experienced some form of food insecurity in the 30 days leading up to the survey.

Emporia State began developing its own plan for addressing problems of food insecurity by conducting a student survey in 2014. Although responses were low (40 responses out of 796 invitations), 42% of respondents had skipped a meal at some point during the academic year, 42% had skipped a meal in the past 30 days, and 8% had skipped more than five meals in the past 30 days because they did not have enough money to buy food.

In response to these results, organizations on campus worked together to immediately develop and open a campus food pantry, called Corky’s Cupboard, in Fall 2014.

But should the burden of lessening an epidemic of food insecurity among college students be left to college campuses?

The GAO concluded that, at the very least, students need to be made aware of their possible eligibility for food assistance and encouraged to take advantage of this and other government resources.

For single students to be eligible for food assistance in Kansas, they must be working at least 20 hours a week.

It is estimated that for every 3 semester credit hours, a student will spend 3 hours in class and should account for six to nine hours of study time outside of class per week meaning that the average full-time college student can expect to “work” around 56 hours per week with coursework included.

For full-time college students who are working at or near federal minimum wage, it means living on about $145 a week, while working “overtime” to keep up with coursework.

Cutting down on coursework and working more to pay for college doesn’t make financial sense for the average college student, either. A Pell Grant, which most low-income students rely on to finance their education, will only cover school expenses for 12 semesters, or about 6 years.

Taking on a part-time course load in order to work a full-time job, it would take approximately 8 years to complete an undergraduate degree (at 15 credit hours a year, summers included). And if the student is being paid minimum wage, they’d only be making $290 a week.

$290 a week doesn’t sound bad for a single student, except when taking into account it’s only marginally above poverty level, and the student will be responsible for their own health insurance and costs, and probably an extra two years in student loans.

I realize these are hypothetical scenarios, but I think they are important to consider. With the rising cost of education, the government should be doing more to help students make it through college without going hungry.

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