One-third of college students are food-insecure, GAO finds

Amid growing awareness of food insecurity on college campuses—but a lack of data documenting the problem—the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a meta-analysis finding that more than 30 percent of college students are going hungry and are often unaware of resources that could help. According to the report, almost 2 million at-risk students who were potentially eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, did not report receiving benefits in 2016.

Across the United States, 38 million people currently receive SNAP benefits; the program is funded only through February under the current government shutdown.

The first major federal acknowledgement of food insecurity on campus

Requested last year by Senate Democrats, the GAO analysis took into account 31 studies, federal data from 2016, and interviews at 14 colleges. It found that most low-income students experience “additional risk factors for food insecurity,” chiefly “being a first-generation college student, receiving SNAP benefits, and being a single parent,” writes Inside Higher Ed.

“This GAO report is not only the first ever federal report on hunger at American colleges and universities, but is also an important step towards ensuring students have what they need to succeed,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Increasing awareness of available assistance

Many colleges, meanwhile, have been working to address hunger by launching on-campus food pantries. Although such resources are an important step toward “acknowledging the problem,” there still needs to be a more systemic solution, Sara Goldrick-Rab told The Atlantic.

Increasing awareness and use of SNAP benefits should be a priority, the GAO said, pointing to the lack of accessible information from the the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture that administers SNAP. The GAO calls on FNS to clearly inform students about eligibility rules and to ensure local offices are on the same page.

“It is time to not only think about tuition and fees but basic needs,” Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, told Inside Higher Ed. Goldrick-Rab expressed a similar sentiment to The Atlantic: “food insecurity is a college completion issue,” she said. “We’re undermining our federal investment in financial aid by not paying attention to this. We have to stop pretending like living expenses are not educational expenses.”


Georgetown University has launched an on-campus food pantry to support members of the university community experiencing food insecurity. Located on the fourth floor of the university’s Leavey student center, the Hoya Hub is available to all undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty and staff members. The team working on the pantry hopes the project will eventually grow to encompass additional programming and other aspects of food insecurity.

Interested in supporting the Hoya Hub food pantry? Donations will be used to purchase non-perishable food items, grocery gift cards, shelving, and storage containers to create a safe and sustainable resource for the Georgetown University community. Give to the Hoya Hub.

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