College student success requires a supportive learning environment that includes excellent academic opportunities, hands-on learning experiences, a sense of belonging and exposure to career-related opportunities. Student success is also linked to reliable access to nutritious food and affordable housing.
When students do not have reliable access to enough nutritious food to feed themselves or their families, they are food insecure. In Ventura County, the high cost of housing exacerbates the issue of food insecurity for financially strapped students and their families. They may have little money left for food after paying their rent or mortgage and may even face eviction or homelessness, which impacts their mental and emotional well-being.
Students worrying about where they will find their next meal or where they’ll sleep at night will likely have increased class absenteeism and poor concentration, as well as mental and physical fatigue.
Aside from getting lower grades than their peers who have plentiful groceries and housing stability, food-insecure students usually withdraw from their courses and are unable to complete their degree or certificate. This cycle of uncertainty equates to more unskilled workers in our community working in low-paying jobs.
A 2020 report from the University of California indicated that 44% of undergraduate students have dealt with food insecurity. In the Ventura County Community College District, thousands of students depend on college basic needs services through “Grab & Go Groceries” events and food pantries.
Because food insecurity affects people of all ages and backgrounds, including those who must work to attend college and care for their families, the Ventura County community colleges take a holistic approach to meeting the needs of these students.
Ventura, Oxnard and Moorpark colleges are committed to removing barriers and stigmas by providing welcoming environments for students to access food, financial aid and other resources available in the community.
At Ventura College, at least 28% of our more than 13,000 students have utilized the Basic Needs office for food and housing assistance, which demonstrates that students may be grappling with multiple financial challenges.
Students at our main campus in Ventura can rely on the weekly drive-thru food pantry and biweekly pantry for students at our East Campus in Santa Paula. During these events, students receive groceries as well as essential items, including toilet paper, hand sanitizer, toiletries and other items. The Associated Students of Ventura College provide hot meals at least once a month.
Eligible students can participate in the CalFresh program, which provides $234 or more monthly in grocery food cards. We assist these students with the application process through weekly Zoom workshops where they receive personal attention.
Moorpark and Oxnard colleges meet their students’ essential needs through similar programs. During the 2020-21 academic year, Moorpark’s “Raider Central” distributed food to 922 students, around 6% of its student population. Oxnard College’s food distribution program provided sustenance to students more than 500 times in the last academic year, while their snack pantry provided food to students approximately 1,178 times during that period.
Students who need transportation to purchase groceries can get free bus rides throughout the county using the College Ride Pilot Program from the Ventura County Transportation Commission.
The colleges’ initiatives will go a long way in helping students achieve their academic goals, career aspirations and long-term well-being. It’s important for our colleges to continue this work, as it’s known that food insecurity is an equity issue appearing in high numbers for our traditionally underrepresented populations.
A survey from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University showed bisexual, gay and lesbian students in California experienced inequities-related food insecurity more than their heterosexual counterparts, while Black, American Indian, Alaskan Native and Hispanic students had higher rates of food insecurity than white students.
The pandemic has increased Ventura County residents’ reliance on food pantries and free hot meal sites over the past 18 months. Food Share Ventura County estimates its services have doubled since COVID’s rise, with around 150,000 individuals using its programs each month.
As an institution of higher education, we must meet our students’ basic needs so they can focus on their education and not their next meal. By earning their certificate or degree, they are competitive in today’s workforce and can achieve food and housing security, which are crucial to helping them succeed in the long term.
Kimberly Hoffmans, R.N., Ed.D., is president of Ventura College.