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Are Students Hungry?

Food Insecurity on the Boise State Campus

photo of student presenting

Over forty percent of Boise State students have experienced some form of food insecurity. Food insecurity, the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food, is a growing but often invisible problem on college campuses nation-wide. Food-insecure students report that hunger can negatively impact their academic performance and their ability to complete their studies. Recent studies have indicated the alarming scope of the issue nationally and a new study by the Idaho Policy Institute quantifies the issue among Boise State students.

MPA students gained hands-on experience through a service-learning project and offered a plan for improving food security among students. The PUB 500 class investigated Boise State student food insecurity throughout the spring semester and recently shared their findings, discussed challenges and made recommendations for tackling the problem in a public presentation on Boise State’s campus.

Photo of Dr. Matthew May of the Idaho Policy Institute
Dr. Matthew May of the Idaho Policy Institute

The class taught is taught by Wendy Jaquet and consists of six students from various majors, including PPA. Jaquet thinks that grappling with real issues impacting students is an important part of the learning process. “I try to make sure that my students experience working on an issue that is close to home,” says Jaquet. “I believe that this prepares them for the practice of public administration in the real world.”

The presentation began with Dr. Matthew May of the Idaho Policy Institute discussing IPI’s findings on food insecurity at Boise State and how it compares to national trends. In general, Boise State students experienced higher rates of high food security, lower rates of low food security and a one percent higher rate of very low food security than the national average. Other key points included:

  • Thirty percent of food insecure students reported that hunger or housing problems had an impact on their education
  • Sixty-one percent of food insecure reported being currently employed
  • Food insecure Boise State students reported higher student loan burdens than national average
  • Forty-eight percent, reported using services such as SNAP or WIC, 13 points lower than national average

Public Administration students continued the presentation, noting that while Boise State students have slightly above-average food security than the nation on the whole, providing services for food-insecure students has proved a challenge. Drawing on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they discussed the difficulties in maintaining academic performance while their physiological needs are not secure.

Photo of students
Left to right: Danielle Taylor, Tammy Perkins, Alexis Pickering, Ana Costa, Ryan McGoldrick, Graham Reed
Photo of student making presentation

Through this service-learning experience, students identified several obstacles that make overcoming food security on campus a challenge. Among them are a negative stigma about being food insecure, a gap in student involvement, a lack of collaboration and communication between stakeholders, and a sense that a level of hunger is a character-building rite of passage for college students.

The students analyzed food security efforts at other Idaho universities as well as the strengths and weaknesses of current hunger alleviation efforts at Boise State before making recommendations. The group’s primary recommendation was the launch of a campus food pantry. This effort would require increased communication and  collaboration from various campus stakeholders and service providers as well as greater student involvement. The class presented a detailed model of what such a panty would need to be a success and outlined potential roles for existing service providers and students.

A note about survey methodology:
The Idaho Policy Institute surveyed all Boise State University Foundation 200 students during the Spring 2017 semester (N=1,138). The questionnaire included 33 questions collecting 74 data points on each respondent. A total 257 usable responses were collected, for a 23% response rate. Modeled after a national study, it utilized the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “U.S. Adult Food Security Survey Module: Three-Stage design, With Screeners” scoring methodology to score the respondent’s level of food security.

The survey was administered online via Qualtrics and was open for three weeks (1/24 thru 2/14). IPI’s Dr. Matthew May adds, “Because the population was limited to UF200 students, plus the low response rate, generalizability is limited but the results do serve as a starting point for assessing how Boise State students compare with the national numbers.”