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Resources 'clearly not enough’ | 59% of NorCal community college students food insecure

The report showed that even though some of the students are working jobs, they are still experiencing insecurity with basic needs.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Another survey is reflecting national trends of insecurity of basic needs in California's higher education system, and, this time, it's among those in the community college system.

“We’re just starting to understand the scope of the issue,” said Dr. Christine Baker-Smith, an author of the California Community Colleges #RealCollege Survey, in response to the surge of these reports.

The 40,000-student survey revealed that about 50 percent of students in the community college system have recently experienced food insecurity. However, in Northern California, that number is 59 percent.

What are the issues?

“The students who attend college 50 years ago are different than what the student population looks like today,” Baker-Smith said.

Some of those students are older than the usual 18 to 24-year bracket, don't finish college in four years, and a chunk of them can even be single parents.

Food insecurity:

Proportionally, the Northern California region is the highest of any of the regions that reported being food insecure. About 50 percent of California students were noted as food insecure, but the average for Northern California in the report was 59 percent.

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Housing insecurity and homelessness:

Sixty percent of those responding to the survey experienced housing insecurity in the previous year.

They often cited challenges with rent increases, not paying utilities in full, and not paying their rent in full. Of the 19 percent who were affected by homelessness, the majority were temporarily staying with a relative or friend.

Proportionally, the Northern California area had the highest rate of housing insecurity (70 percent) and the highest rate of homelessness (24 percent).

“The Northern California area is definitely experiencing some of the highest rates of basic needs insecurity across the state, among those students who responded to the survey,” Baker-Smith said.

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The resources are not enough

According to the study, the students receiving Pell grants and even those working are not at a lower risk of basic needs insecurity.

Pell Grant:

In order to get a Pell Grant, you have to be at a certain income, and, according to Baker-Smith, those students are more likely to have some level of basic needs insecurity at the start. 

“[Even if it is only correlational] it does highlight the fact that the resources are clearly not enough," said Baker-Smith. "We can make that statement clearly, because, if it were enough, we wouldn’t be seeing them,” she said.

Working jobs:

“Well, yes, these students are working and it’s still not enough to meet all their needs,” Baker-Smith said.

Students are working, but, according to the survey, sometimes it still isn’t enough.

“There’s no causal statement we can make here, but the correlation is certainly striking,” she said.

What's there to help


“Many, many students are eligible for government resources like SNAP, CalFresh, the CalGrant, and they often don’t know it.”

Many of the students in the community colleges experiencing basic needs insecurity do not receive public assistance. Even some of the population assistance programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and tax refunds are quite low when given the rates of students experiencing basic needs insecurity, according to the report.

Here's how the percentage of students taking advantage of the resources in California:

  • Any assistance – 59%
  • Medicaid – 35%
  • SNAP -25%
  • Tax refunds – 17%
  • WIC – 7%
  • Transportation assistance – 7%
  • Utility assistance – 7%
  • Housing assistance – 6%
  • TANF – 4%
  • Child care assistance – 5%
  • SSI – 6%
  • SSDI – 6%
  • Unemployment compensation – 4%
  • Veterans benefits – 3%
  • Other assistance – 3%

The organization suggests policy recommendations like improvements to access to CalFresh and Cal Grants, which targets low and medium income students but tends to serve students better in four-year colleges than those in two-year colleges.

To see if you can qualify as a college student, click HERE for more information.


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