Over half of University of Hawaii students struggle with food insecurity, financial resources, study finds

·3 min read

Jun. 28—Fourteen percent of the students in the University of Hawaii system were homeless at some point last year.

That's according to a study conducted by the UH Basic Needs Committee in partnership with the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, a research center.

"We're seeing what is, in effect, a hidden crisis in higher education, where very high percentages of students are experiencing food and other forms of basic needs security, and it's putting significant pressure on students, " Basic Needs Committee Chairman Albie Miles said. "It's compromising their ability to focus and their ability to excel in college and even graduate, so it's a serious issue that needs to be dealt with."

The study found that 58 % of the University of Hawaii student body experienced some type of basic needs insecurity, including food and housing, clothing and financial resources, in the last year.

Invitations to complete a questionnaire were emailed to over 48, 000 students from the UH system. Just over 1, 000 students participated in the study.

The study also found that of the students surveyed, 39 % experienced food insecurity in the prior 30 days, 44 % experienced housing insecurity in the previous year and 14 % experienced homelessness in the previous year. These numbers are consistent with national studies done within the past five years on student basic needs insecurity.

Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting economic crisis further contributed to increased rates of basic needs and security within the UH student body.

Originally an ad hoc committee, the permanent Basic Needs Committee was founded in 2019 following a recommendation by the Office of the President of the universitywide system. Utilizing the data found through this study, the committee plans to implement a universitywide basic needs master plan, which would include on-campus programming, such as a food pantry or in-person student serv ­ices, as well as educational plans to spread awareness of the availability of basic needs resources to students.

The committee has already begun to implement some of its educational programming. In March the Basic Needs Committee created and launched an online clearinghouse to provide basic needs resources, as well as a searchable database for basic needs information and resources. The website lists resources on each of the 10 UH campuses, as well as resources through ­­out the community at the county, state and federal level. Available resources range from child care to veterans affairs to LGBTQ + resources.

The importance of the committee's awareness plans is supported by data from the study, which found that high percentages of students qualified for basic needs assistance but were unaware that resources to help them existed.

"For us that's an important meta point, where we see that all we have to do is do educational programming to make sure students are aware that we actually have a site where they can go and connect via this search engine to these resources that are in their community, " Miles said.

Miles said that while the committee may never be able to adequately address the systemic issues that result in these basic needs circumstances, the committee aims to ensure that all UH students are aware of the resources available to help them.

"What we can do is make sure that they are aware of the assets that are in their community or on their campus, " Miles said.

Miles said that while the data may be shocking to the average person who doesn't study basic needs, for those working in the field, it wasn't particularly surprising.

"It's important to realize that this is not simply the 'starving students scenario' that many previous generations of folks would use to describe the situation, " Miles said. "What we're dealing with here is really a crisis. This is students being significantly negatively impacted by not having enough resources to live a normal, healthy life, and it's potentially going to compromise a significant number of students' ability to perform well and enter society and be productive citizens."