Food Insecurity Crisis Being Combatted with Solutions from Ed Tech

There’s officially a crisis of food insecurity plaguing college students, and it’s on the rise nationally, with some 3 out of 5 students going hungry and being pushed closer to the dropout edge. Yet as bad as the news looks, there are solutions out there — and California is leading the way by investing in Basic Needs outreach for students backed by effective educational technology to build students more effective safety nets.

WHY STARVING STUDENTS SHOULD MATTER TO EVERYBODY: Food insecurity is, in plain language, being so broke you literally don’t know where you’ll find food to feed yourself and your family. Food insecurity for the very people working hard to make a better life – those millions enrolled in higher education nationwide — carries implications beyond just hungry students. When It comes down to either bread or tuition, it doesn’t get more elemental as a hard choice. And when students are being driven out of college by this Food Insecurity crisis, that threatens the crucial higher education pipeline that prepares the next generation to run their towns, their states, and their country.  

In America’s most populous state, California, it’s tragic that so many people go hungry in the place that grows nearly half the nation’s produce. Yet food insecurity among its college students is estimated to be as high as 60%. In the rich ethnic diversity of the Golden State, the hunger crisis disproportionately affects Black, Latinx, American Indian, and Alaska Native students.

HERE’S SOME GOOD NEWS: Educators and social service advocates have been studying the erosion of higher education attainment due to food and housing insecurity for years, even before the Covid-19 pandemic caused massive disruptions to educational systems and the economy. And in those studies are silver linings like data showing that when students DO get access to reliable food sources, they stay in school and achieve more. Reversing this food insecurity crisis is both possible and imperative.

One study tracked the current roadblock to easing student food insecurity is that there are TOO MANY solution proposals being floated. The problem with too many here is that officials and agencies are failing to coordinate solutions/proposals in ways that truly help enough students. A partnership of the California Community College (CCC) Chancellor’s Office and Education Commission of the States found a confusing patchwork of more than 20 programs and initiatives spanning college, system, state, and federal jurisdictions. 

“Only half of those programs provide direct aid — arguably the most effective solution to food insecurity because it also helps improve financial stability and continuous enrollment,” states a recent op-ed in the American Association of Community Colleges authored by Eloy Ortiz Oakley, CCC Chancellor and a regent of the University of California, and by Angelica Campos, CCC Student Senate President

To address food insecurity and address other basic needs, including mental health, they called on policymaker’s to modernize benefits programs and maximize direct aid to California’s community college students – especially partnering across agency lines, increasing data sharing, and simplifying application processes.

“College students aren’t just learning machines – they have lives to live. Many have kids to raise, work a full-time job, or live with a disability. Navigating food insecurity doesn’t have to be another burden for them,” notes the op-ed in the Association of Community Colleges.

ONE KEY GOOD-NEWS STORY: What the data shows is working are the effective Basic Needs outreach programs being created into one-stop-shop hubs and centers at colleges nationwide, including now at California’s community colleges. These one-stop-shops or hubs mesh outreach and aid programs for students and are now being created as part of the CCC Basic Needs programs by education technology experts at ConexED in partnership with the nonprofit Foundation for California Community Colleges (FCCC). The hub that works is already here and operational.

ConexED’s partnership provides a seamless connection from connecting students to their Basic Needs like access to food but also seamlessly connecting them to required administrative paperwork, CalFresh, and other food outreach, financial aid, academic counseling, transportation needs, aid for housing problems, as well as physical and mental health counseling. And it’s all coordinated where modern college students live, digitally, via smartphone or tablet, and coordinated both on-campus and online to reach the maximum number of students with minimal delay or roadblock.