NPI researchers develop survey questions to assess University of California students' basic needs and housing security

Aug 26, 2020

The University of California (UC) has focused on student food security since the inception of the UC Global Food Initiative (GFI) in 2014 and has been instrumental in shaping the state and national conversation around students' basic needs challenges. In 2018, as part of a GFI funded project, UC commissioned Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) affiliated researcher Suzanna Martinez at the UC San Francisco and NPI's director Lorrene Ritchie and graduate student researchers Laurel Moffat and Erin Esaryk to conduct a study titled “Defining Student Basic Needs in Higher Education: An Exploratory Study on Housing and Food Insecurity Among University of California Students.” The study explored the issue of student housing insecurity across the UC campus communities and developed, vetted and validated housing-related questions to accurately measure housing security. The study included a racially diverse group of 58 undergraduate and graduate students--of which 98% reported experiencing food insecurity in the last year and 24% reported that they had experienced homelessness since attending UC--from UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz. The students participated in cognitive interviews on housing-related survey questions and focus groups on the concept of basic needs and housing. The final survey contains four modules that assess a variety of living circumstances: students' current and past living situations (17 items), housing insecurity and challenges students encountered around housing (21 items), overcrowding issues (6 items), and food insecurity timing and issues regarding basic needs security (21 items). The full study, including the final survey questions, was released on August 13, 2020, and is available for download online.