Equitable Higher Education
College Food Access Toolkit
Whether you are a higher education administrator or a passionate student advocate, this toolkit recommends best practices to implement at your college or university to address the student population's needs. Food insecurity among college students is widely felt but rarely discussed as a barrier to attaining higher education.
One third of college students at four-year institutions and 38% of students at two-year institutions face food insecurity, even with tuition aid. Addressing the issue of food access on college campuses through collective advocacy and interventions is critical so that every student has an equal opportunity to reach their career aspirations.
According to the USDA, food insecurity is a “household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food” that may result in hunger. Texas has a higher prevalence of food insecurity compared to the national average (USDA, Economic Research Service).
Factors that can contribute to food insecurity among college students include but aren’t limited to housing insecurity, student loan debt, work obligations, and inaccessibility of affordable and healthy food options. With the increasing cost of tuition, being a college student is more expensive than ever, which can lead to students opting to go without food to make ends meet.
Level 1: Basic Health Needs, Physical and Mental Health
- Food insecurity has a negative impact on health conditions like diabetes and depression.
Level 2: Academic Outcomes
- Lower retention and graduation rates, GPAs as a result of stress or nutrient deficiency.
Level 3: Systemic Issues
- When students who come from historically marginalized backgrounds are impacted by such barriers in addition to racism, discrimination, and prejudice, it furthers the racial divide in academic success and job prospects.
Marginalized students are disproportionately affected by food insecurity, with the highest rates reported among Black, first-generation, and LGBTQIA+ students. Additionally, disabled, low-income, and working students are high-risk populations as well. Populations already facing systemic barriers to higher education are often met with this obstacle.
Assessing food insecurity at your campus is critical to understand the severity of the issue at hand. Often, food insecurity is not measured broadly, leading to a lack of awareness of how to best address the issue. A consistent, yearly assessment is essential to increasing awareness of college hunger, understanding the impact of existing resources, and acquiring critical data on barriers such as transportation and affordability to guide interventions.
with Food Insecurity Condition
Food insecurity can hit students suddenly, and emergency assistance is imperative for students to remain in good health to perform well academically. Having funds available to help students with groceries on a case-by-case basis is important to this end.
with No-Means Testing Policy
On-campus food pantries have become increasingly prevalent on college campuses as an accessible hub for students to access free and nutritious food on campus. Having a no-means policy for obtaining food (meaning food is readily available to all without conditions) is essential to ensure that common barriers like social stigma and perceived insufficient need don’t interfere with access for low-income populations. The pantry should also be widely promoted to ensure it reaches every student that may need it.
Student Governments across the nation created this resource for maintaining a campus food pantry. It includes guidance about partnering with your regional food bank, getting administrative support, setting up a space, sample floor plans and budgets, and how to recruit and manage volunteers among many other resources. It also notably includes a needs survey for both students and faculty/staff/administrators.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is an essential resource to help qualifying students alleviate the financial burden of food access. Colleges can play a proactive role in supporting the health of their students by helping to educate students about SNAP and encouraging eligible students to enroll through targeted outreach. Students can also mobilize and help refer other students with navigating assistance programs which can decrease the stigma.
The Public Health Emergency (PHE) ended in May of 2023. During the PHE, students benefit from pandemic-era exemptions. Now that those exemptions are no longer in effect, students must qualify under new exemptions. College students can learn more about qualifying on our College SNAP Page.
These are prime examples of successful SNAP support programs, where students were trained to become navigators for their fellow peers. These efforts were primarily piloted at City University of New York (CUNY) and a network of 130 other schools that helped students through SNAP applications.
Especially if student housing for the university is primarily located in an area identified as a food desert (where residents live 1+ miles away from the nearest supermarket), it is important to offer or utilize existing transportation systems to provide direct routes to the nearest grocery store. This service offers college students with the agency to purchase their own food and have a variety of options to accommodate various diets. Smaller retail stores that exist in college neighborhoods are often too expensive for the typical college student.