By Andrew Beers
Although college students accrue large masses of debt while working towards their degree, the outcome is generally beneficial. With a college education, students can earn an average of $ 1.2 million more in their lifetime when compared to citizens with only a high school diploma. While the future of higher education yields promising results, it comes at a cost far more necessary in life than money – food.
Unfortunately, one in three college students face food insecurity in Pennsylvania, so on March 28, anti-hunger advocates arrived in Harrisburg to try and change that statistic. The Hunger-Free Campus Act, originally proposed in 2019, offers students a chance to receive three meals daily without the stress brought on by financial burdens. The bill has been included in Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2023 budget for the fiscal year, but it has been shelved for too long.
The Hunger-Free Campus Act will allocate $ 1 million from the proposed budget to support public institutions by establishing food pantries on campuses, increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment for students, and promote anti-hunger campaigns. I had the opportunity to join more than 100 student advocates from 16 schools across the Commonwealth in asking Pennsylvania legislators for their support to pass the proposed bill. The event was a peaceful, but rigorous, attempt to provoke change in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
While few legislators showed up for their meetings with advocates, state Rep. Curt Sonney, R-Erie, gave students hope. As the chairman of the House Education Committee, Sonney’s voice was crucial. I was fortunate enough to meet with Sonney, who clarified in the meeting that Wolf’s $ 1 million budget allocation proposed for the bill is merely a small portion of an excessive surplus of $ 7 billion in the 2023 budget. Students were advocating for the $ 1 million to be passed and distributed as grants for public institutions towards their hunger-free campus programs.
Food insecurity seems to be overshadowed by the privilege of higher education, but it directly impacts students negatively. According to a 2020 survey conducted by Chegg, Swipe Out Hunger, and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, one-third of the nation’s college students missed a meal weekly after the pandemic. This food scarcity leads to a higher rate of college dropouts. Approximately 34% of students surveyed knew someone whose college education was terminated due to the limitation of being unable to afford food.
Students in Harrisburg understood this data because they identify with the subjects of the survey. As a commuter student, I’ve been challenged with food insecurity, and to see other students with similar issues had a profound impact on my conscience. We left the Capitol in solidarity, for we knew that the foundation for hunger-free campuses had been laid for future college students.
After a riling rally in Harrisburg, I am more than confident that the Hunger-Free Campus Act will be passed. Because food is universally important for survival, there should be no reason for college students to starve themselves for a higher education. The cost of food should not define the success of future generations.
Andrew Beers is a senior at DeSales University. He is currently studying communications with a track in journalism. His hometown is Mount Pocono.