I grew up in Bullhead City, Arizona — a city that boasts an average family income of nearly $10,000 less than the national average. What this means is that many students rely on free or reduced-cost breakfast and lunch at their high school, middle school or elementary school. As a result, students are guaranteed at least two meals a day — even if the pizza is lukewarm and bland at best. Once students graduate, meals are no longer guaranteed and the costs of living are significantly higher than they were before students move from their childhood homes. Even if students have some money for their living costs, many are not financially literate, preventing them from effectively budgeting for their future.
In the state of Arizona, around 23% of children grew up in food-insecure homes as of 2018 — a staggering number that is 5% higher than that of the national average. Even more concerning is that at the university level, around 42% of students are food insecure, according to a survey by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. That same survey cites that 46% of college students claim to be housing insecure during their time at university. Basic needs insecurity is a problem at the university level, but there is a way that these institutions can begin to address it. Before I jump into that, it is critical to understand what exactly basic needs insecurity is.
Basic needs encompass far more than just food and housing. The term takes into consideration other important aspects of life such as mental well-being, community, safety, financial support and quality education. These items are critical and are all interconnected. For example, individuals lacking financial support likely lack food or housing, increasing their stress and deteriorating their mental well-being while intrinsically decreasing their academic success. These items are also massive barriers to entry for lower-income students, not only for their entry into university, but also for graduating. Especially today, when more and more low-income students are entering the university system, it is imperative for schools to create systems which offer equal opportunities for low-income students. An essential part of that system is the support of basic needs security. For far too long, the stigma of college students surviving on three meals of ramen noodles and bologna sandwiches has prevented large-scale action to help lower socioeconomic students from succeeding as best they can. Interestingly, a large proportion of this stigma comes from a general misunderstanding of the issue.