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Hunger on campus is a real problem with real solutions

Esther J. Cepeda on

When students are hungry, they miss class -- sometimes to pick up an extra shift at work, sometimes because they get sick because their immune systems are weak from malnutrition.

Now you've got students who can't make it to class, can't concentrate when they are there or don't have the book so they can do the work. If they end up dropping the class or -- far worse -- dropping out of school, it leaves them with no degree and student loans that must be repaid.

If this happens to people in families with a strong track record of attending and graduating from college, they will probably be an anomaly.

But when it happens to the first person in a family to attempt higher education, not only have they failed themselves but they've become a cautionary tale about the no-safety-net-high-wire act of trying to better yourself. All the adults in that family will forever be scarred by one student's inability to pull off this feat that every high school college counselor proclaims is both indispensable and attainable.

As ever, there are solutions, even if they're not easy.

First, forget cutesy concerns about the legendary "Freshman 15" pounds that students gain. Instead, encourage your alma mater or local college to create campus food pantries, campus community gardens and food recovery programs. Or make a donation to such efforts.

Call your legislators and ask them to improve student access to existing federal programs, including expanding the SNAP eligibility requirements for college students, simplifying the application process for financial aid (especially for homeless students), and adding food security measurements to the annual National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

If none of these efforts appeals to you, then try this: Next time you run into a college student, ask him or her if you can treat them to a meal -- they'll surely appreciate the offer either way.

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Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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