UC commits $3.3 million to tackle food access issues

Guided by the findings of an in-depth University of California survey, President Janet Napolitano has approved $3.3 million in new funding over the next two years to help students regularly access nutritious food on campus and off, UC announced today (July 11).

The funding, which includes $151,000 for each of UC’s 10 campuses, is in addition to the $75,000 per campus that Napolitano allocated in 2015 to address the immediate challenges of ensuring that students have ready access to nutritious food, and reflects the UC Global Food Initiative goal of promoting a nutritious, sustainable food supply.

“Food security is a critical issue not only on college campuses, but throughout our country and the world,” Napolitano said. “We undertook this survey, and are acting on its findings, because the University is serious about addressing real, long-term solutions to improve the well-being of our students.”

To better gauge the food security of its students, UC administered an online survey in spring 2015 to a randomly selected sample of students from all UC campuses. Of the 66,000 students asked to participate, nearly 9,000 completed the survey – a 14 percent response rate. Undergraduate and graduate students were invited to participate in one of two ways: through the National College Health Assessment II survey administered by the American College Health Association, or through an independent campus survey administered by the UC Office of the President‘s Institutional Research and Academic Planning Division. In both formats, the survey utilized a six-item U.S. Department of Agriculture food security module.

The survey responses were evaluated by the UC Nutrition Policy Institute, part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

According to the survey, 19 percent of UC students indicated they had “very low” food security, which the USDA defines as experiencing reduced food intake at times due to limited resources. An additional 23 percent were characterized as having “low” food security, defined by the USDA as reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet, with little or no indication of reduced food intake.

Based on the results of this Food Access and Security study and in conjunction with student representatives systemwide, UC developed an action plan tailored to the needs of individual campuses while maximizing coordination among them. The plan includes:

  • Expanding food pantry storage and access
  • Increasing collaboration with state and county offices to register students for CalFresh, California’s nutrition assistance program
  • Establishing and expanding awareness campaigns on student support services and food access
  • Expanding the existing Swipe Out Hunger programs, which allow university students to donate excess dollars on their meal plan to reduce hunger on campuses
  • Integrating food preparation and secure storage space into new student housing design and construction
  • Enhancing financial aid communications about housing and food costs

These measures build on UC’s efforts to address the issues of student food access. In 2014, Napolitano and UC’s 10 chancellors launched the UC Global Food Initiative and in 2015 asked each campus to form a food security working group that included undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, administration, and community experts. These working groups formalized ongoing campus efforts on all nine undergraduate campuses to establish food pantries for emergency relief and to develop plans to expand the Swipe Out Hunger programs. UC also convened the California Higher Education Food Summit at UC Santa Barbara in 2015 and at UC Irvine in 2016 to discuss strategies for improving food security.

The study is available to download here.