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A significant number of college students -- 22 percent -- have very low levels of food security, which can make classwork more difficult, according to a report published yesterday.

The study surveyed nearly 4,000 students from 26 four-year colleges and eight community colleges, asking them questions about their accessibility to food. It was organized and carried out by four organizations: the College and University Food Bank Alliance, the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, the Student Government Resource Center, and Student Public Interest Research Groups.

Among other findings in the report:

  • There was a divide between race and ethnicity. Of those white and Asian students surveyed, 17 percent had very low food security. However, 25 percent of Hispanic or Latino students had very low food security, and 28 percent of black or African-American students did.
  • Fifteen percent of food-insecure students had experienced some sort of homelessness in the past year.
  • Nearly half (49 percent) of food-insecure respondents had borrowed money from friends or family to help pay bills. That statistic dropped 28 percentage points for students who were food secure.
  • Food insecurity occurred at both community colleges and four-year institutions. Twenty-five percent of students at community colleges had very low food security; 20 percent of students at four-year students did.

In addition, food-insecure students had more trouble with schoolwork. Over half (55 percent) reported that hunger problems caused them to not buy a required book; 53 percent reported missing a class; 25 percent reported dropping a class.

Researchers came to these findings by asking students how much they agreed with questions such as “I worried whether my food would run out before I got the money to buy more.” Then the responses were coded in accordance with a food security scale from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.