Food insecurity on college campuses

Research reveals that the cost of higher education impacts food and housing security

Photo Illustration by Puja Thapa / Administrative Executive Editor

The financial cost of attending college puts some students at risk of hunger or homelessness. According to The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, research shows that “45 percent of college students experience some form of housing insecurity including problems related to housing unaffordability, instability or homelessness.”

Last year, faculty of Keene State’s public health department Dena Shields, Amanda Hickey and Margaret Henning conducted research on hunger and food insecurity in Keene State’s student population. 

From the results of that research, the second round of research is being conducted. This follow-up research is focused on the objective definition of food insecurity according to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), housing insecurity and how the mental and physical health of students is impacted by these things. Student researchers Tana Meyer and Elyria Gordon-Wylie are conducting the research with the goal of completing the data collection by mid-March.

“An interesting data point that came from the first round of data is that students with unlimited meal plans had answered that hunger impacted their academic performance,” Shields said.

Two years ago, Keene State created a Hunger and Homelessness Task Force to address the issues students are facing. The task force consists of Keene State faculty, staff and students, Keene community members and Chartwells employees.

“They all want to help students in this way. What we do is look for ways to help students in these areas, and what policies might need to change,” Shields said. “One of the things that came out of this task force is the professional dress drive. An email went out to faculty and staff and we had a great response.”

The plan is to host the professional dress drive close to the time of  the Future Fair. This will allow students to find a free, professional dress before the Future Fair. 

Students often struggle with the cost of textbooks. Dr. Karen Cangialosi of Keene State’s biology department has worked to incorporate Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Pedagogy in the science courses at Keene State.

“The Keene State biology department has saved its biology students tens of thousands of dollars over the last five years by replacing all commercial textbooks with OER and other free resources,” Cangialosi said.

The cost of higher education is an issue across the country. The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice has drawn data from 411 colleges and universities across the United States. 

“It’s not about Keene State doing anything wrong, it’s about the public support for higher education that’s been the problem and our legislature in New Hampshire that’s been the problem,” Cangialosi said. “There’s a hashtag, ‘RealCollege’ and I think the idea is thinking about what are the real issues that students face. If you have a lot of debt and you have to pay a lot, you might have to work a job or two or three. Realistically, when you come into class and you’re falling asleep it may be because you’re working a night job.”

Director of External Relations Steve Fortier is also a member of the Hunger and Homelessness Task Force. He worked with the college to secure enough public funding to freeze tuition rates for the 2020/2021 academic year. The University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees voted to freeze next year’s tuition because of sufficient state funding.

“I think it’s important for all of us to understand that the most effective way of meeting students’ needs is to increase state and federal funding in higher education,” Fortier said. “Until we really address the issue of state funding, in particular, of higher education, we will always be dealing with these issues.”

Kelly Regan can be contacted at

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