SIP 8.3 Responding to Food Insecurity and Poverty in the College Classroom

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Poor College Student. Picking coins out of the couch, stuffing pockets with extra food at the “end of the semester” class potluck, and endless dinners with ramen and canned pasta products as the main course, these misadventures are synonymous with the struggles of college life. Mainstream culture views this financial struggle as a rite of passage as college-bound individuals transition from adolescence to adulthood and sometimes get stuck in the murky realm between the two realities. Although for an increasing number of college students, being poor is more than just an inconvenience or one of those character-building experiences of going to college. Research suggests that over a quarter of all college students are food insecure (

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways” (

Between 30% – 40% of undergraduate students are food insecure and a similar number lack a secure place to live (in 2013, over 50,000 college students self-reported as homeless on their FAFSA applications). Often having to choose between food and shelter or educational expenses, students choose educational expenses in the hope of creating a better life for themselves. This problem is even more pronounced for historically underserved students, including students of color, first-generation, and low-income students.

Economic distress is the number one reason that low-income students fail to finish college. The low-income students who scored between 1200 and 1600 on their SATs are half as likely to graduate as their peers from higher income families ( Even though a far greater percentage of college students qualify for financial aid than in the past, colleges and states have fewer dollars per student to allocate to them. The cost of higher education is at an all-time high, while the income and wealth of most American families is declining.

Take a SIP of this: Food Insecurity and Poverty in the College Classroom

Many students who struggle with food insecurity or other financial hardships may be reluctant to seek out assistance because of the stigma of poverty. Faculty should “Faculty should think about ways to reduce stigma and avoid singling out individuals when communicating with students around these issues. For example, faculty can include “a basic needs statement” about food resources and other services that could assist students who are struggling (for more information see the link Basic Needs Security and the Syllabus found below). Faculty could also create a page in Blackboard listing important student resources offered on campus. Students may be unaware of what kind of support services MSU Denver offers, or that there are various options depending on their specific needs.

Another way to support students struggling financially is to consider the cost of required books and materials. Because of the high cost of textbooks, consider using “open textbooks,” or openly licensed sources that can be found for free online. The Center for Teaching, Learning and Design will be hosting a Faculty Learning Community on Open Educational Resources this fall. See

Other MSU Denver resources for students in need:

MSU Denver has a food pantry to assist students struggling with food insecurity. The Roadrunner Food Pantry receives donations from individuals and groups. For more information, see this link:

The CARE Team: Consultation, Assessment, Referral and Education. The Care team focus is for the safety and wellbeing of students. For more information see this link:

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP Food Insecurity and Poverty in the College Classroom

* What College Professors are Offering to Help Students Get Food and Shelter:

* Basic Needs Security and the Syllabus:

* What Colleges Can Do Right Now:

Visit The Well at for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher education classroom!

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