Students cooking ramen noodle packets in the dorm microwave have come to symbolize what is deemed to be the universal college experience. However, that image demeans the dire situation of students experiencing food and housing insecurity in higher education.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Through advocacy on campuses and in communities and ongoing state and federal investment in the real cost of higher education—including housing, food and other supports—we can and should make a firm commitment to students who  are doing everything they can to become economically self-sufficient.

The national numbers for food and housing insecurity demonstrate the very real struggle students have to balance between supporting themselves and working toward a degree. The costs of living and tuition require most students experiencing food and housing insecurity to work while also taking on a full-time course load. For example, the California State University at Long Beach Division of Student Affairs highlighted that 80 percent of their students worked while in school to support their families. Many of the jobs were in the retail and restaurant industries, which typically afford flexible hours to students but have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic closures.

The need to work in order to provide for oneself and to pay school tuition is exacerbated by rising costs of living, stagnant wages—and school debt. As the number of high school applicants to California higher education institutions climbs and enrollment at California State Universities grows, students are taking on a significant amount of debt to achieve their higher education degrees.

Indeed, as of 2020, the national student debt crisis reached a striking $1.6 trillion. This debt forebodes ripple effects to come, as graduates will spend a greater portion of their incomes paying off student loans rather than stimulating the economy and supporting their own well-being.

Read the full article about student hunger and homelessness by Jireh Deng at EdSurge.