Student hunger remains a chronic issue at four-year universities around the state. But student hunger can mean different things and come across in different forms, depending on who you talk to. For students at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, steep tuition means that for some, extra resources are needed to keep meals on the table.
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Fortunately, there is a variety of resources for hungry students at CSU. The term “hungry students” means students who are showing signs of food insecurity, such as skipping meals or eating fewer than three times a day at the end of a pay period. Jennifer Johnson, the assistant director of Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement said it’s a growing problem on college campuses.
“Food insecurity, although it probably did occur, let’s say, ten years ago on college campuses, it was not like a hot topic, it wasn’t a thing that like everybody was talking about, right?” Johnson said. “Whereas now I feel like it is a hot topic, and a lot of colleges are talking about it and paying it a lot more attention, which is a good thing.”
CSU is doing more than talking about the problem. The school utilizes a meal-swipe program — where students enrolled in undergraduate classes can swipe their Ram ID card 75 times in residence hall dining halls for meals — a mobile food pantry that brings food from the Larimer County Food Bank once a month, and six “pocket pantries,” where students can grab snacks and small meals between classes.
The school also has a text program that students, staff and faculty can sign up for. If they sign up, they will receive a text message anytime there is leftover food from an event that they can go and pick up within 30 minutes. Johnson said this program is unique because it addresses two issues in one: food insecurity on campus and sustainability by reducing waste.
The last thing the school offers is a federal eligibility program, where eligible students and employees can sign up to receive federal benefits such as SNAP.
Johnson said the main contributing factors to food insecurity on campus are admissions and tuition.
“A hundred and fifty years ago, there were just white dudes from upper middle class backgrounds that were getting admitted,” Johnson said. “And today, we’re admitting students from all different backgrounds, students from all different races, sexual orientations, all different kinds of financial situations. We’re admitting undocumented students, some students are sending money back to their families, that kind of thing.”
Johnson said that every year, tuition rises by a small percentage, and even though it’s not a large increase, the yearly costs add up and cause problems for students. She added that CSU’s efforts are only emergency assistance and won’t solve the issue of food insecurity altogether. But most people don’t need help finding every meal, they only need a boost to get from paycheck to paycheck.
While it’s hard to know for sure if CSU students are filling their bellies each and every day, the university is doing what it can to address food insecurity, and that sometimes matters all the more.
Listen to more in our series on student hunger.