Thousands of California university students are seeking help each month from food banks and free meal programs as higher tuition and living costs squeeze their meager budgets.
The issue is taking on more urgency as the University of California plans further tuition hikes, if state lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown decide against a UC request for millions more in state funding to cover operations.
For University of California student regent Sadia Saiffudin, the extreme hunger she sees today isn't the occasional empty-wallet experience that some remember from their college days.
Saiffudin said people use the term "starving student" lightly because they don’t realize how much of a harsh reality it is for many. "They weren’t the ones living out of their car or having to shower in the gym," she said.
Data aren't well kept on the number of students who go hungry. But Tim Galarneau, UC Santa Cruz food systems researcher, said organizations that track hunger in the United States have noticed “a significant rise of chronic to acute food insecurity for university and college students.”
A biannual UC survey suggests the scale of the problem: from 2010 to 2014, roughly 50 percent of students said they skipped meals to save money "occasionally" to "very often." And at UCLA, officials distributed in the last academic year some 3,884 meal vouchers for students in dire circumstances facing a food shortage. In 2012-2013, it gave out 7,562, and 4,652 the year before that. UC Irvine has budgeted for fewer than 100 in the first year of its voucher program.
Food pantries for students are now open on most UC campuses, in part because of an effort started by President Janet Napolitano to help solve global and local hunger.
But Napolitano has warned UC will further raise tuition in coming years if the state does not provide more funding, as much as $98 million more in 2015-2016, to maintain the university system's quality and open more seats for California students.