UW-Madison Food Pantry Highlights Student Poverty

Hunger Remains Problem On Campus
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Katharine Broton
Wisconsin Public Television

Wisconsin HOPE Lab researcher Katharine Broton discusses poverty among college students.

A new food pantry for University of Wisconsin-Madison students is one sign that poverty can exist on campus. As UW-Madison Ph.D. student Katharine Broton explained in a Feb. 5, 2016 interview on Wisconsin Public Television's Here And Now, traditional conceptions of college students' financial and social situations has grown outdated.

Broton works with the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, a UW-Madison research unit that focuses on the socioeconomic challenges facing college students — including those less visible than the crisis of mounting student debt. Broton co-authored a December 2015 report and New York Times op-ed sounding the alarm about homelessness and food insecurity among community college students. The HOPE Lab surveyed 4,312 community college students from across the country (including at Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac), and found that 20 percent of them reported experiencing very low food security (defined in the study as having multiple experiences of "disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake"), 22 percent faced difficulty paying rent, and 13 percent experienced some form of homelessness.

These challenges, Broton said, reflect a student population that is increasingly "nontraditional" — more likely to start college older, with immediate needs to balance school with family and work.

"I think we still have this notion of a traditional college student who gets dropped off at college in their minivan or SUV with their parents and loads of supplies," Broton said on Here and Now. This population often has trouble accessing the social safety net, she added.

The Capital Times also looked at the HOPE Lab's research in a recent cover story, detailing the experiences of several Madison-area college students who've struggled with social and economic barriers while trying to get an education.

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