MA Department of Higher Education
For Immediate Release
December 23, 2015
Some Public Campuses See Increase in Food Insecurity, Homelessness among Students
BOSTON – Wednesday, December 23, 2015 – Massachusetts’ public colleges and universities are expanding their outreach to students experiencing food insecurity, according to the results of an informal campus survey conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE).
With mobile food markets, vouchers good for free meals in the dining hall and the establishment of both on and off-campus food pantries, the state’s community colleges, state universities and University of Massachusetts campuses are stepping up their assistance to students in need, the Department’s second annual questionnaire on student food insecurity shows.
“I am very proud to see faculty, staff and fellow students mobilizing on campuses across the state to assist students, especially during this holiday season,” said Carlos E. Santiago, Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education. “Even during the busy end to the fall semester, we are seeing our campus communities conduct food drives and stock pantry shelves to support students at risk of going hungry.”
Results of the 2015 DHE questionnaire on food insecurity showed that 25 of Massachusetts’ 28 community college, state university and University of Massachusetts undergraduate campuses have opened food pantries or have begun to direct students to nearby off-campus food pantries, up from 19 campuses in 2014. Twelve campuses have begun tracking the use of food pantries to gauge whether food insecurity is a growing problem. Additionally, 20 campuses answered “yes” when asked “Are you aware of any homeless students enrolled at your campus?” Thirteen of those campuses said the number of homeless students was on the rise in 2015.
“This qualitative information from our campuses is important for us to track, as it has implications for our work to improve students’ academic outcomes,” Santiago said. “We cannot expect to students to excel in their studies or graduate on time if they are experiencing hunger or homelessness.”
In addition to food pantries, a number of campuses said they were expanding other types of non-academic support services to meet student needs. Anecdotal accounts from campus staff indicated that some students, trying to curtail loan debt, may be forgoing meal plans as they try to curb living expenses.
“We call this ‘the new normal’ in the student support arena,” said Shirley Fan-Chan, Director of the University of Massachusetts Boston Office of Urban and Off-Campus Support Services (U-ACCESS) and Chair of the Massachusetts Post-Secondary Homeless Students Network. “This new generation of students is working to support themselves and going to school full-time, but the cost of living has increased for them and in order to pay their bills, something must be compromised. Too often, that ‘something’ is food or shelter.”
The findings echo the results of a recent national survey conducted by the Association of Community College Trustees and the nonprofit organization, Single Stop. The groups surveyed 4,300 community college students in seven states, one of five of whom reported that he or she had gone hungry in the previous 30 days. Thirteen percent of the students said they had experienced homelessness in the past year.
In Massachusetts, campus officials said students who are homeless are more likely to “couch-surf” than to stay in shelters, as they attempt to save on the expense of dorm living or forgo rent by bunking temporarily with friends or relatives. This makes the student homeless population harder to identify and to serve, campus officials say.
In 2014, the state conducted a first in the nation statewide count of unaccompanied homeless youth through the Special Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth. Through a 2 week census, 2,392 surveys were completed by youth under the age of 25 and 795 were completed by youth who met the state definition of an unaccompanied youth (a person 24 years of age or younger, who is not in the physical custody or care of a parent or legal guardian, and lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence). Of the 795 youth, 37% were involved in educational programming and of those, 23% were enrolled in college.
State officials said the campus survey emphasizes the need to work closely with colleges and universities to better understand the specific needs of the student population.
Campus responses to the DHE questionnaire included the following information:
Bridgewater State University reported that its on-campus food bank was accessed more than 800 times during the 2014-15 academic year.
At Salem State University, 40% of the 248 students who responded to a campus survey said they had experienced hunger while enrolled.
Springfield Technical Community College reported a 15% increase in the number of homeless students attending classes in the past year.
UMass Boston’s U-ACCESS program reported that over 45% of students served since 2012 have experienced homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless. UMass officials say they are increasing the capacity of their campus food pantry every semester to meet the needs of students.
Among the actions taken by campus officials or student groups to address the hunger issue:
Greenfield Community College has begun providing “Free PB & J Every Day” to students, a program funded with a gift from the campus foundation.
Holyoke Community College will open a formal food pantry on campus at the start of the Spring 2016 semester to replace the ad hoc food pantry run out of a faculty office. HCC student clubs and organizations are running holiday fundraising drives to help stock the new pantry.
Quinsigamond Community College students are building a greenhouse that will be used to support seasonal food drives on the Worcester campus.
UMass Dartmouth students, who opened a food pantry for fellow students last year at a church located near campus, have added a second on-campus pantry location this year to assist students in need. In conjunction with the YMCA Share the Harvest program in Dartmouth MA, students have helped to harvest thousands of tons of vegetables for local food pantries.
At UMass Lowell, in addition to a student-run food pantry, members of the campus community are making online donations to pay for "guest meals" at the campus dining hall for students in need.
In early 2016, Westfield State University will launch a campus food pantry to serve students, located at a nearby church to give students both easy access and a measure of privacy.
For a map of campus locations and more information about Massachusetts’ system of public higher education please visit http://www.mass.edu/system/campusdirectory.asp.