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The Open Seat Food Pantry opened on the UW-Madison campus last spring.

Nearly half of college students surveyed at 34 schools in 12 states reported that they had trouble getting enough to eat, according to a new study of hunger on campus.

In the survey of 3,765 students attending eight community colleges and 26 four-year colleges, 48 percent of respondents reported food insecurity in the previous month. Of these, 22 percent reported circumstances that qualify them as hungry.

Indications of “food insecurity” included in the survey ranged from eating smaller meals because of lack of money to skipping meals and losing weight because of inability to buy food.

Students surveyed attend public and private schools in 12 states, including New York, California, Illinois and Michigan.

Findings of this broad study were consistent with earlier research focusing on food insecurity conducted by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab at UW-Madison, some of which included students at Wisconsin schools.

"At this point we need to move beyond being surprised at the numbers and develop action plans," HOPE Lab founder Sara Goldrick-Rab wrote in a preface to "Hunger on Campus."

The new study found higher levels of food insecurity among students of color, with 57 percent of black students saying they had experienced it, compared to 40 percent of non-Hispanic white students.

And 56 percent of students who were the first in their family to attend college reported being food insecure.

Students reported having trouble getting enough food even if they had a paying job, received financial aid, were enrolled in a meal plan or accessed food assistance programs.

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Sixty-four percent of students who sometimes went hungry also reported experiencing some type of housing insecurity.

These conditions affected their education, students said. More than half reported being unable to buy a required textbook or missing a class, and one-quarter said they were forced to drop a class for financial reasons.

That means the system is failing students who need assistance the most, said the study’s authors.

“When a student can receive financial aid and earn a part-time salary and still not be able to afford adequate, nutritious food, our educational system is failing to provide that student with a viable path to success in their higher education," the report said. "Moreover, the students who often need support the most — first-generation college students and students of color — appear to be the most likely to be food and housing insecure.”

The study’s authors called on colleges to pursue a range of creative ways to address food insecurity on campus, including creation of campus food pantries, community gardens, food recovery programs and helping students access existing federal aid.

For policy makers on the national level, the report recommended simplifying eligibility rules for college students for food stamps under the SNAP program, and removing work requirements for full-time students.

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