Penn State evolving food and housing efforts to support students in need

The University is enhancing current resources and its network of support for students across campuses

Penn State offers a range of services to assist students who are experiencing food and housing insecurity. Credit: Penn StateAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State strives to make a world-class education accessible for as many as possible and offers a range of support for students through scholarships and grants, financial literacy programs, comprehensive advising and career services, and more.

As national estimates suggest that nearly 43% of college students across the country struggle to afford food and about 48% deal with varying levels of housing insecurity, access to food and housing resources is also a key element in supporting students’ educational, emotional and social well-being.

Food and housing insecurity can look different for everyone — and can be a one-time, ongoing or overlapping challenge — but the effect on students’ ability to thrive can be profound, according to Penn State President Eric Barron.

“As an ongoing, critical priority throughout my presidency, the University has focused on a variety of efforts related to access and affordability for students,” Barron said. “Providing a range of offerings, including food and housing security resources, is vital to helping students succeed. Our commitment and efforts in this space are ongoing, and we are continuing to look at what’s happening nationally to expand in creative ways to support students at this fundamental level, so they can thrive, meet their goals and get to the finish line.”

Nationally, students who are focused on how they will afford food, housing, and other basic needs are, for example, more likely to earn lower grades, not complete their degree, and experience mental and physical health concerns. Over the past year, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the collective need among students dealing with unforeseen financial circumstances and underscored the importance of ongoing progress.

Ongoing support

In February 2020, Barron formed a Food and Housing Security Task Force to evaluate this challenge across the campuses, identify existing initiatives, understand gaps, and identify innovative approaches to build on the work that has been conducted across the University. The task force completed its assessment and shared its recommendations in March 2021, and the University is currently advancing a variety of initiatives.

Current University efforts are centered on enhancing the infrastructure across campuses to identify and support students in need; developing programs for food insecurity prevention and response; establishing a permanent, central Student Emergency Fund; providing funding to address housing insecurity and emergency needs; and advocating for policies at local, state and federal levels.

This academic year, the Penn State community is continuing to innovate and find creative ways to offer support, including:

  • A promising LiveOn Student Success Grant program being piloted this fall at eight residential campuses to help bridge the gap beyond tuition costs and promote academic success and degree completion. For eligible undergraduates, the grant provides need-based student aid for room-and-board costs and is layered with other scholarships to become part of their overall financial aid package. The grant helps to make a Penn State education more affordable by saving students’ approximately 25% per year on room and board — totaling one year free for those who live on campus for four years.
  • A new direction for the annual Renaissance Fund Scholarships, which are awarded to academically talented students with financial need. This year, Eric and Molly Barron have been recognized as the Renaissance Fund honorees, and community members can offer continued support for students through contributions to the Eric and Molly Barron Scholarship Fund.
  • Philanthropic opportunities for the Penn State community to rally around a common goal to combat food and housing insecurity — a major focus in the final year of the Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence philanthropic campaign. This month, Penn Staters showed their Big Ten competitors the unrivaled We Are spirit with gifts to support emergency funds across the commonwealth by participating in One Big Week. Together as a community, Penn Staters channeled school pride into school spirit by raising more than $214,000 from over 2,900 gifts in the challenge.
  • A continued partnership with Swipe Out Hunger, a nonprofit organization that works with colleges and universities nationwide to combat college student hunger. Over five days last spring, Penn State students donated leftover dining dollars and raised more than $29,000 for the Student Emergency Fund. This progress would not be possible without students. This semester, students can again offer direct support to their peers experiencing food insecurity during the University’s drive during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week from Nov. 13-21.
  • Enhancements at food pantries across our campuses, including at the Lion’s Pantry, which is undergoing renovations and will reopen its physical location later this semester, as well as new cold and frozen food storage that will provide enhanced nutrition beginning next spring. In addition, Student Affairs and Housing and Food Services will partner to make it easier for students to seamlessly access nutritious food at campus pantries across the Commonwealth Campuses.
  • Ongoing work to establish a potential on-campus location at University Park that accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to expand access and enable eligible students to use the public assistance program, and to look to do the same at other campus locations in the future.
  • A survey that the University plans to administer to a random sample of undergraduate and graduate/professional students at University Park to evaluate access to affordable food and housing. These students, regardless of whether they experience food or housing insecurity, will be encouraged to participate in the Food and Housing Needs Survey. This survey will be an important step in gathering information that will guide ongoing efforts to respond to student needs across the University and provide valuable learning for additional surveying at campuses.

“We are making progress as a community and must continue to learn and harness resources through assessment and coordination across campuses. I am proud of all the students, faculty, staff, alumni, partners and community members who continue to commit themselves to supporting students in need,” Barron said. “Together, we can continue to gain a deeper understanding of this challenge to guide our actions at our campuses, as well as contribute to ongoing conversations among our peers about how best to support students nationwide.”

Ongoing guidance through Student Care and Advocacy and a variety of resources is always available to students who are experiencing food or housing insecurity or who are uncertain about their needs.

Last Updated November 30, 2021