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Study reveals students struggle with hunger and financial security

Despite the common stereotype and fear of the infamous “Freshman 15,” a study reveals that many college students stress over money to meet the basic need of an empty stomach.

“Money is the most stressful part of college,” Oklahoma Christian University freshman Bethany Neece said. “Money is the only way to have a life or participate in anything on campus. Since coming here, I find myself trying to get by on spending the least possible, figuring out what is actually necessary and what I can pass on. Buying groceries is a luxury.”

The study by Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of education policy and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, assessed food security among community college students across the United States. Rab’s findings revealed that more than half of all community-college students struggle with food insecurity, or hunger.

Although Oklahoma Christian is not a community college, there are still students on campus who have experienced the effects of hunger.

“We do have a number of students on campus who have never had to worry about food or shelter, or even affording school, and then we have some students who are on the complete opposite of the spectrum and none of it comes easy,” Dean of Students Neil Arter said.

According to The Atlantic, hunger has a large impact on learning in the college classroom, and has the potential to negatively affect retention in the learning environment. Not only so, but hunger may lead students to make decisions that interfere with college completion, such as working longer hours at a job or taking breaks from studies to work to put food on the table.

Arter said working during college is a difficult balance for students to manage, especially those who feel the need to work long hours just to have money to get by.

“The students who need money to live, a lot of times they work so much at a job – work so many hours to get money to live – that they don’t have any time to live,” Arter said.

College campuses are made up of not only students who struggles with money for food, but also students who stress over the issue of money to participate in social activities, eat out and purchase daily necessities, according to Neece.

“My friends and I have actually bonded over stressing about money and food,” Neece said. “Money isn’t easy to come by because jobs are hard to have considering all the things OC encourages us to be in.”

Because of the prevalence of stress-related issues such as money and food among students, the campus dining program works hard to help meet student needs, according to Regional Manager of United Dining Services Kurt Hermanson.

“One thing that we do is donate five full meal plan scholarships to OC that they can use at their discretion to assist students that may be really close to being able to afford to attend OC, but may be falling a little short,” Hermanson said. “Our hope is that meal plan scholarships may make a difference.”

Yet, some students, like Neece, say that the cafeteria does not provide an appealing variety of options, specifically healthy options.

“The caf has its days,” Neece said. “Their ‘Chicken Monday’ and buffalo chicken are hard to beat, however most meals are mediocre to say the least. I often find myself going back two or three times to get different types of meals.”

However, Hermanson said U Dining helps provide students with nutrients to be successful in the classroom, but it is up to students to choose to eat well or not in the cafeteria.

“We have all the foods that a student needs to get all the proper nutrients in a day to help them be successful in the classroom,” Hermanson said. “The problem is that we can’t force students to eat them.”

According to Hermanson, the grilled chicken U Dining serves is not as popular as the chicken strips on ‘Chicken Monday’, and the baked pork chops and fish are significantly less popular than fried chicken, chicken fried steak or any other fried food.

“I have always said that we serve nutritious foods, but we can’t walk with every student, pick out their food or sit with them to make sure they don’t overeat,” Hermanson said. “Most students have developed their eating habits prior to coming to college and continue to with those habits while they are here.”

Although the campus cafeteria offers a wide variety of options that help ease the stress of spending money on food and eating out, at times it can be an inconvenience, according to Neece.

“The caf does open early, which is very helpful,” Neece said. “But the meals have a certain time frame, which is inconvenient when I have classes that overlap with the caf’s schedule.”

Oklahoma Christian provides a variety of job opportunities, including positions that are available in the cafeteria, for regular-study and work-study students.

“We employ around 90-100 OC students here in the caf each semester,” Hermanson said. “We think it’s a great place to work and learn about being responsible in the work place.”

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