The Stand Farmers Market at San Diego Mesa College (photo courtesy of Mesa College).
An increasing number of San Diego’s community college students face food insecurity and many also face homelessness, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s HOPE Lab of more than 700 students in the San Diego Community College District.
In 2017, the HOPE Lab surveyed 43,000 students from 66 institutions across the nation, almost half of which were community colleges. The national study found that food and housing insecurities were worse for community college students compared to university students. This is the third Hope Lab survey and the second the SDCCD has participated in. The results for the district show an increase in the percentage of students reporting challenges with having adequate food and shelter. Other surveys were conducted in 2016 and 2015.
The study found that, 56 percent of students surveyed at San Diego City College said they faced challenges being able to afford nutritionally adequate food, up from 44 percent in 2015. Forty-four percent of students at Mesa College reported difficulty meeting basic needs, up from 39 percent. At Miramar College, 36 percent of students reported they had faced challenges affording a meal, down from 40 percent in 2015. Lastly, 42 percent of students at Continuing Education faced food insecurity, up from 28 percent. The survey’s national average for community college students was 42 percent.
In terms of homelessness, 15 percent of students surveyed at City College, 12 percent of students at Mesa College, and 10 percent of students at both Miramar College and Continuing Education reported that they experienced some form of homelessness in the past year. This compares with a national average of 12 percent.
Students were classified as having low food security if they answered affirmatively to several statements, including whether – within the past 30 days – they couldn’t eat for a whole day because they did not have money for food, whether they couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals, and whether they had to cut the size of a meal or skip eating because they didn’t have enough money to feed themselves. Black and Hispanic students registered the highest levels of food insecurity in the district, with the exception of Miramar College, where Hispanic and Asian students registered the highest levels of food insecurity.
Students were classified as housing insecure if they answered affirmatively to at least one of several statements, including whether – within the past 30 days – they had moved in with other people due to financial problems, whether they had moved two or three times, and whether they had not paid the full amount of rent or mortgage. More than 44 percent of City College students said they had been housing insecure within the past month, more than 43 percent of Continuing Education students said they had been housing insecure within the past month, nearly 37 percent of Mesa College said they had been housing insecure, and more than 32 percent of Miramar College students were housing insecure.
The scope of the problem is staggering when you consider that the district annually serves approximately 100,000 students.
“Students at San Diego City, Mesa, and Miramar colleges and San Diego Continuing Education are representative of the community at large, which is facing serious challenges with food and housing because of the high cost of living in the region,” said Vice Chancellor of Student Services Lynn Neault. “Like so many others in the area, the San Diego Community College District is doing what it can to address these challenges while at the same time looking at innovative solutions.”
In response to the current situation, the district’s colleges and Continuing Education are hosting food and clothing pantries, sponsoring farmers markets where students receive fresh produce at no cost, and working with community partners to address students’ basic needs.