Caleb Torres, a George Washington University student, was just one example of how students struggle with hunger on college campuses across the nation.
A first-generation college student, Torres lost seven pounds during his freshman year because he started skipping meals, the Washington Post reported.
He started running out of money halfway through the school year and could not longer afford to buy enough food. Sometimes, all he had to eat for an entire day was one can of SpaghettiOs.
To supplement his meals, Torres would scout for campus events with free food.
How common is this?
It's a struggle that is all too common on many of today’s college campuses.
A first-of-its-kind study by researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab found that 36 percent of students at 66 surveyed colleges and universities do not get enough to eat, the Post reported. A similar number of students lack a secure and permanent place to live.
One in 10 community college students reported that they have gone at least one entire day without food, the survey found. And about 6 percent of four-year university students have said the same.
Educators and experts studying the national phenomenon say rising college costs are not the only thing to blame. Today, even a combination of grants, loans, scholarships, and part-time jobs may not be enough for college students to live on. That is also true for older students who are attempting to complete a degree while working part-time and caring for a family.
According to the study, hunger threatens millions of students every year. And while college hunger is not a new problem, it appears to be getting worse, the study stated.
When a person lacks adequate food, they are described as being “food insecure.” Specifically, the USDA defines the term as a lack of consistent access to adequate food due to financial limitations.
What impact does this have on academics?
College students struggling to meet basic needs tend to get lower grades than their well-fed peers.
"Among students who reported receiving D’s and F’s in college, more than half were food insecure, with more than 40 percent at the very lowest level of food security,” the study states.
Often, the poverty experienced by “food insecure” students lead them to dropping out of school. Some colleges are reportedly opening food pantries to help their students.
But even that is not always enough.
Another issue is the stigma attached to poverty, the study notes. Some colleges are unwilling to acknowledge they have students who cannot afford enough food and stable housing.
But in Kansas City area, colleges have contacted Evelyn "Evie" Craig, president and chief executive officer of ReStart, a nonprofit agency. In addition to lacking enough food, some students have nowhere to go during school breaks, the Kansas City Star reported.
"We have some 'Leave It to Beaver' notion that because a kid is in college, every kid has a home with a white-picket fence to go to," Craig told the Kansas City Star. "In the five-county Kansas City metro area, 6,000 students identify as homeless. That's K-12, but you have to assume that if a student is homeless as a senior in high school, that is not suddenly going to change as they enter college. There is so little support directed at these young adults age 18 to 24."
Torres, now a senior, was able turn his situation around. He told the Washington Post he decided to talk openly about his experience after learning that the hunger problems are common on college campuses.