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Thursday, April 19, 2018

The hidden crisis of university students in the United States

Por Nina

When Supraja Sridhar was studying at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, she encountered a problem she never imagined: one of her classmates was going hungry. "She had three jobs and it was difficult for her to feed herself, to have the food she needed," laments the young woman. Sridhar had a meal plan hired at the university and offered to share it, but she kept thinking: "Will there be more people like her?"

It was 2013 and at the time there was not much information about it, but this month a new study shed light on the phenomenon: more than a third of students in American universities do not have enough money to eat properly. "It's the saddest thing I've worked on in my career," says Sara Goldrick-Rab, the Philadelphia Temple University scholar who led the research. The report, published by Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab center, is presented as the "broadest" national study on this crisis.

Researchers analyzed responses from 43,000 students from 66 higher education centers in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and concluded that 36% of them did not eat enough or have access to safe housing. The document includes information on students from universities and community colleges, centers that serve as a bridge to the university, with more affordable two-year courses that can be validated in a later career. To describe the situation, the researchers speak of "food insecurity", in reference to people who skip meals or reduce the amounts of what they eat for lack of money; and "precarious housing", or the difficulty to pay bills or the need to move frequently.

Among the most important conclusions, is the percentage of students who spent at least one day without eating the month before the survey, due to lack of money: 6% in universities and 9% in community centers. The reasons that lead to this situation are several, according to the researchers: the rise in the cost of studies, the difficulty in finding a part-time job, the lack of appropriate aid, the greater number of students with fewer resources and even ignorance of the problem by some institutions. The situation remains in the shadows because study centers "do not necessarily see that their job is to take care of adults," stresses the person in charge of the research.

"In a way, (the centers) assume that if they're in college, they have to be able to take care of themselves. But they do not realize that it's not about being able to take care of yourself, it's about having or not having enough money," says Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab. The figures of the study, she points out, are only the "tip of the iceberg": "The truth is that this does not represent the national situation because there is no data available". The difficulties to pay the bills or the price of a meal damage the performance of these students, especially those with fewer resources, and even force some to leave the classes.