Communicating about food insecurity in higher education

Food insecurity is a reality on university campuses across student populations from first-year community college students to graduate students. While the reasons vary by population, the impact on student well-being and performance has been documented. Prospective students may be worried about their own ability to fund their education, succeed academically and feed themselves.

Enrollment marketers might be reticent to discuss food insecurity in their messaging but ignoring it when it exists is not authentic. It is better to acknowledge the broader issues and highlight areas where the institution is focused on solving the problem for their own students and if appropriate, more broadly in academics.

A few relevant strategies:

  • Institution data and research. Present relevant information and studies about food insecurity at the institution which demonstrates a commitment to understanding and addressing the issue. Discuss any broader studies that the institution or faculty are involved in to solve the issue more broadly.
  • Highlight student support systems. Discuss the resources and support systems the institution has in place to combat food insecurity. This can include campus food pantries, meal assistance programs, scholarships specifically for living expenses, student-led programs or partnerships with local organizations.
  • Success Stories: If available, share stories of students who have successfully utilized the student support resources. This provides real-life examples of how the institution supports its students.
  • Incorporate Student Voice: Involve current students or alumni in these discussions, especially those who have been advocates for, or beneficiaries of, these programs. Testimonials are powerful examples that success can be achieved within the institution.
  • Promote a Community of Care: Emphasize the institution’s commitment to creating an inclusive, supportive community where all students can thrive, including those facing food insecurity.
  • Integrate into Broader Wellness Conversations: Incorporate discussions about food insecurity into broader conversations about student wellness and support services, emphasizing a holistic approach to student well-being.
  • Encourage Questions and Discussion: Allow prospective students to ask questions and express their concerns. This creates a dialogue and shows that the institution is open and responsive to student needs. Often students with the most need are the most unaware of programs and support services. Proactively engaging students can assist in providing solutions before situations become harder to manage.
  • Confidentiality and Accessibility: Make sure to inform students that assistance is confidential and easily accessible, reducing any potential stigma associated with seeking help. It is often that the students most in need are the most reticent to come forward to seek help. 
  • Continuous Improvement: Mention the institution’s ongoing efforts to improve and expand resources to combat food insecurity. This shows a commitment to continuous betterment.

By addressing food insecurity openly and proactively, you show prospective students that your institution is not only aware of their potential challenges but also actively working to provide solutions and support. This will increase your institution’s appeal to a broader group of students and place you in a position to effect positive change throughout higher education.