College Hunger in D.C.
High rates of food insecurity plague college campuses around the U.S., and colleges in the District are no exception. We at D.C. Hunger Solutions (DCHS) recognize that the District, where the cost of living is high and nearly 15 percent of households struggle to afford enough to eat, is home to college students experiencing food insecurity. As we work to improve the lives of the District’s residents, eliminating food insecurity among D.C. college students is an important part of carrying out our mission.
Currently, The George Washington University (GWU) is one of the only D.C. schools with public data on college student food insecurity. The median undergraduate tuition at GWU was $54,453 as of 2019. This is almost $26,000 above the average tuition rate, making the school one of the most expensive to attend in the District (after Georgetown University). The GW student body has a median family income of $182,200, yet almost 40 percent of students on campus reported facing “low levels or very low levels of food security” in the District — and that was before the pandemic. In fact, Sara Goldrick-Rab’s national study on college hunger found that “37 percent of community college students and 29 percent of four-year students reported the food they’d bought just didn’t last and they didn’t have money to buy more.”
Think about it: college is the first time that some students are ever economically independent during their lives, and D.C. is an expensive city to live in. It is a myth that all students can rely on their parents to pay for everything, and many college students do not have money to fall back on.
Financially independent 18- to 22-year-olds must balance schoolwork and part-time jobs while simultaneously learning how to budget. Managing to pay for their own meals, groceries, and necessities with very little financial experience can prove challenging in one of the “most expensive cities in the U.S.”
For the many college students in the city who are nontraditional students, other challenges must be met while pursuing a degree. Being a single parent, having dependents other than a spouse, and/or working full time while attending college can be difficult, and many students need to prioritize other household members’ needs over their own, including food.
Although little data are currently publicly available related to college hunger in the District, DCHS believes that if GW’s rate of food insecurity were as high as 40 percent before the pandemic, then college hunger unquestionably continues to be a major problem at other higher educational institutions in the District as well. The latest #RealCollege survey highlights the stark realities of college hunger, for example, finding that “nearly 3 in 5 [college students] experienced basic needs insecurity” as of 2020. Luckily, steps are being taken both at the local and federal level to address college hunger.
What is DCHS Doing to Combat College Hunger?
Currently, DCHS is pushing out information through our channels on the 2020 COVID-19 relief legislation that successfully eliminated some barriers for college students to receive food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 temporarily waives SNAP student work requirements, making it so college students are eligible to apply for SNAP if
- they are eligible for federal or state-funded work study programs during the regular school year; or
- they are receiving the maximum Pell Grant amount of $6,495.
DCHS has emailed resources to universities in D.C. to share with their student bodies to ensure eligible college students are aware of new policies in place that expand college student access to food assistance resources. Additionally, we have created a TikTok account to better reach this demographic and spread the word.
However, these changes to SNAP student work requirements are only temporary and will be revoked “30 days after the COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted.” While this barrier elimination provides a temporary solution, increasing SNAP access for college students must become more permanent.
That is why with over 20 colleges in the DMV area, DCHS is increasing its outreach to college students to combat college hunger. We are currently working with our partner organizations and representatives from all interested colleges in the District to develop a No Hunger on Campus Coalition. The coalition will be focused on measuring food insecurity among college students in D.C., creating a Districtwide action plan to combat student food insecurity, and working to develop and pass legislation to increase, permanently, college student SNAP eligibility.
However, We Need Your Help to Combat College Hunger
While DCHS is already taking some important steps to decrease student food insecurity, we need your help to reach all students within the District and ensure we give everyone a seat at the table on our new No Hunger on Campus Coalition. We have outlined below some important steps you can take in helping us fulfill our mission.
- Apply for SNAP if you are eligible: Check out our Instagram and TikTok for important information on qualifying and applying for SNAP, and visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture for answers to any questions you may have related to SNAP benefits for students.
- Widely advertise SNAP: We must ensure that all SNAP-eligible students and District residents apply. Call DCHS at (202) 640-1088 for more information on the application process, and to connect colleges, universities, and students to DCHS for assistance.
- Educate the public about college hunger: Share our resources related to the new SNAP relief to decrease food insecurity in the District on your social media, and be sure to share our blog with your networks.