Being the broke college student: Rite of passage or worrying trend?


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Melanie Buer

For as long as I’ve been going to school, there has always been this running joke about the broke college student; sitting in cold apartments and buying cases of Ramen in bulk while they study for their midterms. It seems to be a rite of passage for most, where students try to make a job work in between classes to pay their bills, and many of these students can be seen driving through campus in their beat-up Fords, rushing to class with a stiff coffee in their hands.

Maybe it’s because students have conditioned themselves to treat the problem of not having enough money to buy food on a regular basis (unless it’s 50 cent Ramen noodles) as “just what college kids do,” but the problem of not getting enough to eat is actually endemic among universities across the country.

According to recent studies, nearly half of American college students are suffering from “food insecurity,” meaning that students must either choose between college-related expenses or a month’s worth of meals. Many students choose to go without, opting instead to ensure that they have their books or their tuition paid before they buy a full cart of groceries.

A large portion of the student population in this country is also homeless – living out of their cars or couch surfing in their friends’ apartments because it’s too expensive to get their own places.

The reality of that situation is dire and painful to look at. In a country that continuously claims to be the best in the world, the students who are taking a chance and going deep into debt for a better shot at a stable life on the other side of graduation are consistently grappling with the stress of stretching out paychecks to cover expenses.

Many times, it just doesn’t go far enough and students are forced to choose between one meager meal a day or making sure they’ve got the right books for class.

While some of the stress can be alleviated by student loans, it’s becoming more common that students are unable to make those loans stretch until the end of the semester, particularly if they’re dealing with other forms of debt. That picture looks particularly grim when students don’t have any other ways to alleviate the stress caused by the inability to secure enough food for the month.

Thankfully, there’s a program at University of Nebraska at Omaha that was designed specifically for the purpose of helping to curb student food insecurity. The campus Food Bank is open to any students who need a bag of groceries, and the process to request food is simple and discreet, if students find that they can’t get over the stigma of walking into a food bank.

The MavOrg website has a quick online form that students can fill out, and orders generally take a few days to fill. The staff will email the student when the food is ready to be picked up. The whole process is quick, and the staff treats students like anyone else – if students are like me and feel a little twinge of shame at the idea of not being able to properly care for myself.

Not having enough money for groceries shouldn’t be a worry that students have while they’re in school. While UNO does a great job at ensuring each student is taken care of if they need the help, the fact that this is a problem in the first place is concerning.

Campuses nationwide are grappling with skyrocketing rates of food insecurity and homelessness among students who are in school to better their lives, and this worrying trend among universities is surely not going to go away any time soon.

If any students are having trouble with their finances and just need groceries for the week or month, go to the campus Food Bank. That’s what they’re there for.