RALEIGH, N.C. – College students are facing many challenges this school year, with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing many questions and uncertainty to campuses.
For some students, the challenges stretch beyond their academics and other college activities, to a lack of basic everyday needs.
Two Professors at NC State University conducted a study in October 2020, seven months into the pandemic, and three months before vaccines became available. The survey was sent to a random 7,641 students based off race, gender, and degree status.
The survey addressed homelessness, food, and housing insecurity as a result of the pandemic. Just over 1,400 students responded, and 23% of them said they faced some sort of food insecurity within a 30-day period and, even more alarming, 15% of students experienced homelessness within that time period.
“Given the 23% rate of food insecurity on campus, there is more that we need to do, particularly around housing, we have fewer options for students who are struggling with housing,” said Dr. Mary Haskett, Professor of Psychology and Co-Chair of the NSCU Steering Committee on Student Food and Housing Security.
Dr. Haskett conducted the survey along with her colleague John Dorris.
“Once we have a goal established around food and housing security then were going to be able to measure progress. But right now, we don’t have any way to determine whether we are making a difference, and weather the strategies and the programs we have operating are sufficient for students,” said Dr. Haskett.
“For a brief period, I was worried about not being able to finish school because the bills were staking up,” said Dylan McDonald, a junior at NC State majoring in psychology and biology.
His campus tutoring job was temporarily put on halt, as the university switched to virtual classes, leaving McDonald with no source of income.
He also struggled to remain in secure and affordable housing on campus. Going home was not an option, as his parents who are in the military were facing the possibility of deployment to Germany.
“It was terribly stressful because I didn’t have the money, I had a full course load of school,” said McDonald.
And as the nation faced the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, McDonald faced bigger hardships.
“There was the fear of being homeless, but the first thing I was more scared of was going to bed hungry because sometimes I would have to skip meals just to make sure I could afford a meal the next day,” said McDonald.
Although he felt alone in his struggle, he is not the only student battling these challenges.
“I wasn’t proud of it, there was a bit of shame with it because there is a stigma about being on some form of well fair and that comes with being on food stamps and asking people to help you find house and it was embarrassing, I’d say,” said McDonald.
But now, he proudly shares his story in hopes of helping other students who may feel ashamed of their situation.
The university opened an on-campus food pantry, called Feed the Pack in 2012 to address food insecurity on campus.
McDonald frequented that over the summer, but addressed the long lines that students had to wait in for their next meal.
“You worried about the people behind you, whether or not they’re hungrier than you are, and you don’t want to be the person that’s taking the last of something, because you don’t know if someone behind you needs it more than you do”
Most recently, the university established a program called Pack Essentials where students can go to apply for emergency funds and meal scholarships. The students also requested a program that was recently implemented, where students can donate their unused guest meal swipes.
Dr. Haskett says these programs are helpful, but not enough as the number show, a good percentage of students are still suffering.
“We have a real gap between what it costs to go to school and living expenses and financial aid, and so students are having to fill that gap, that big financial gap, and one of the biggest risks is homelessness when that gap can’t be closed,” said Dr. Haskett.