New study with California university students defines student basic needs as more than minimal food and housing

Mar 19, 2021

Previous research conducted by the University of California (UC) Nutrition Policy Institute identified that, in 2016, 44 percent of undergraduate and 26 percent of graduate students at the UC reported having experienced food insecurity; in addition, 5 percent of students reported experiencing homelessness at some point during their enrollment. A new study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion by NPI, UC San Francisco, and Washington State University researchers explores how UC students define basic needs and reports on their experiences of housing insecurity, and food insecurity within the context of housing insecurity. Fifty-eight UC undergraduate and graduate students were recruited from basic needs centers at five UC campuses to participate in researcher-led focus groups. Results showed that UC students define basic needs as more than minimal food and shelter, but also include mental health, well-being, hygiene and safety; they also reported that meeting basic needs was the joint responsibility of students and the university. Students reported multifaceted housing insecurity issues, said that affording rent is a priority that most often leads to experiencing food insecurity, and also that transportation was a key barrier to meeting their basic needs. Further, students with non-traditional characteristics, graduate students, and out-of-state students reported facing unique challenges in meeting basic needs. Limited financial aid, lack of financial aid guidance and unanticipated University fees were additional barriers reported by students to meeting basic needs. Students reported that additional university basic needs services, such as food pantries and other free food programs, were essential in supporting their basic needs. The findings demonstrate the need for multi-faceted basic needs programs that go beyond food and housing on college campuses. The study was led by Suzanna Martinez of UC San Francisco in collaboration with Erin Esaryk and Lorrene Ritchie of NPI, and Laurel Moffat of Washington State University. The study was funded by a grant from the UC Global Food Initiative. The full study is available online