Student Hunger & Homelessness at Massachusetts Public Colleges & Universities

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2018 Basics Needs Insecurity in MA Public Higher Ed Institutions Study

On May 11, 2018, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab jointly released the results of the first state-level study of food and housing insecurity and homelessness among college students. Massachusetts is the first state to team with HOPE Lab Founder Sara Goldrick-Rab and her team to look at these issues from a system level, with the goal of having the data inform policy interventions. As the Massachusetts report indicates, the state's results closely mirror the findings of a national HOPE Lab study, with a few critical exceptions, particularly in food and housing security between Hispanic students and non-Hispanic white students, where the differences were more pronounced than in the national sample.


The Student Experience

44% of community college students reported some degree of food insecurity
Student Hunger & Homelessness at Massachusetts Public Colleges & Universities

At a time when private colleges have been luring students with sushi bars, fresh-tossed salads, and other increasingly lavish meals, Susan Benitez, 30, an Army veteran and student government president at Bunker Hill Community College, said the problem of housing and food insecurity is more widespread than many realize.

“There are days where I can’t even afford to buy a chip . . . and I know I can go up there [to the food pantry] to get bread,” said Benitez, who is graduating with two associate’s degrees and was just accepted to Stanford.

“You can’t study if you are hungry.”


2016 Hunger & Homelessness Survey

The third annual Massachusetts Department of Higher Education survey of the Commonwealth's public colleges and universities found that most campuses are seeing an increase in student hunger and homelessness. Many reasons were proposed to explain the increases, including cost of living, lack of family support, low-paying jobs and financial aid issues.

34% of campuses report an increase in students being served by food pantries
38% of campuses report an increase in students living with food insecurity
45% of campuses report an increase in student homelessness



The Student Experience

students walk into the front doors of bunker hill community college
24 out of 29 campuses
are aware of students who are homeless

Most colleges said they have students living in shelters, cars, or on their friends' couches, and some described students living in coffee shops and fast-food restaurants, or outside in warmer weather.

“Quite frankly, it’s heartbreaking to know the kind of challenges they’re facing, and they still come to school, and they still try to succeed,” Patricia Gentile, president of North Shore Community College, told The Boston Globe.


National Context

Hunger On Campus: The Challenge of Food Insecurity for College Students

Four campus-based organizations – the College and University Food Bank Alliance, the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, the Student Government Resource Center, and the Student Public Interest Research Groups – surveyed college students across the United States on food insecurity between March and May 2016. Findings of the survey include:

  • Food insecurity occurs at both two-year and four-year institutions. Twenty-five percent of community college students qualified as having very low food security, compared to 20 percent at four-year schools.
  • Food insecurity was more prevalent among students of color. Fully 57 percent of Black or African American students reported food insecurity, compared to 40 percent of non-Hispanic white students.
  • More than half of all first-generation students (56 percent) were food insecure, compared to 45 percent of students who had at least one parent who attended college.


“My concern is that we’re seeing a huge increase in the 18–24 homeless youth population nationally, and I want to make sure that these individuals don’t become the chronically homeless at 50 or 60.”
–Linn Torto, Executive Office of Housing & Human Services, Massachusetts Interagency Council on Housing & Homelessness

Campus Response

In 2015, the Wisconsin HOPE Lab and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) began collecting student-level survey data on food and housing insecurity at community colleges across the nation.

NSCC used the HOPE Lab model to administer a survey in September 2016. The results indicate that 32 percent of the 6,500 students at North Shore Community College are “hungry,” compared with 20 percent of community college students nationwide. Nineteen percent are homeless, compared with 13 percent of community college students nationally.

north shore community college logo


“[We see] more students asking for emergency loans to pay living expenses and students trying to opt out of the meal plans to save money on their overall University bill.”
–University of Massachusetts Amherst
In response to the 2016 Hunger & Homelessness Survey
WBUR Eddinger interview

On October 28, 2016, BHCC President Pam Eddinger spoke to WBUR's Radio Boston about the challenge of fighting hunger on college campuses. Listen here.


Resources for Students

Statewide Programs

Department of Health and Human Services
Find free and affordable food and housing options near you.

Massachusetts 2-1-1
Dial 2-1-1 or visit the website below to get connected with a variety of vital resources in your community 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
1-877-211-MASS (6277)
508-370-4890 TTY

Campus Programs

Bristol Community College
Mobile Food Market

Bunker Hill Community College
Single Stop

Cape Cod Community College
Family Pantry at Cape Cod CC

Greenfield Community College
GCC Food Pantry

Massasoit Community College
Massasoit Food Pantry

North Shore Community College
Emergency Resources

Northern Essex Community College
Food Pantries

Springfield Technical Community College
Center for Access Services


Bridgewater State University
Food Bank 4 U

Framingham State University
Student Resources

Salem State University
Student Advocacy

Westfield State University
Common Goods

UMass Boston

UMass Dartmouth
Arnie's Cupboard

UMass Lowell
Navigators Food Pantry

Students: If you are looking for help but your school isn't listed, contact your campus' office of student services for more information.