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The cafeteria in UW-Madison's Dejope Residence Hall.

Michael P. King

Instituting a college free lunch program, like the one that feeds low-income students in K-12 schools, is one way to help more students access the “great anti-poverty tool” of a college education, UW-Madison’s Wisconsin HOPE Lab said in testimony submitted Wednesday to the National Commission on Hunger.

Other changes to national anti-hunger policies advocated by HOPE Lab director Sara Goldrick-Rab and graduate student Katharine M. Broton are:

  • Revising eligibility rules for food stamps, like work requirements, that make it hard for students to qualify
  • Allowing online filing for benefits
  • Supporting research of hunger in higher education

No national study on the scope of hunger on campus exists, but a HOPE Lab study of 3,000 low-income Wisconsin college students found that 27 percent reported not having enough money to buy food, eating less than they felt they should or cutting the size of their meals because there was not enough money, Goldrick-Rab and Broton said.

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So policy makers need more information on hunger on the nation’s college campuses, Goldrick-Rab said. She joined Christopher J. Nellum of the American Council on Education in calling on the National Center for Educational Statistics to ask students whether they had regular access to nutritious meals in a key survey informing student aid policy.

Adding questions on access to food to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study will provide information to assess how well federal student aid programs succeed in alleviating material hardships to students, they wrote in a request to the National Center of Education Statistics.

“Research in K-12 education demonstrates an inverse relationship between food insecurity and academic achievement. It is difficult to study this relationship in higher education due to a lack of high quality data, but it likely exists among college students as well,” they wrote.

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