Ivy Tech Students Work to Complete Degrees While Struggling With Hunger and Other Obstacles

Food pantries on campus may help adult students achieve degree, and financial security.

On a warm, fall day in Madison, nursing students gathered in the foyer of Ivy Tech Community College. They had finished classes for the day and were waiting to go on a clinical rotation to give flu shots to senior citizens. While none of the students wanted to be fully identified, they were more than willing to talk about the obstacles they face to achieving their degree. One student in particular, expressed personal struggles that had the rest of the group nodding in agreement.

Angela is a 20-year-old nursing student from Hanover. She’s wanted to be a nurse for as long she can remember. “When my friends were pretending to be singers or actresses, I was always pretending to be a nurse,” she said. Her goal is to be able to support herself and provide some assistance for her grandmother who struggles to make ends meet each month. “My granny goes to the House of Hope Food Pantry downtown, and if it wasn’t there, I don’t know how we would eat sometimes.”

Like many community college students at Ivy Tech and nationwide, Angela faces an uphill battle to lift herself comfortably above the poverty line.

  • As a first generation college student, she is among the 56% nationwide who face food insecurity as a barrier to degree completion.
  • She’s fortunate that she has a place to live and is not facing homelessness like 64% of food insecure community college students.

Images: Courtesy of Indy Star

At the opening of the Gleaners Hamilton County Cupboard at Ivy Tech’s Noblesville Campus, President Sue Ellspermann mentioned hunger as one of the top challenges that impedes students from completing their degree. “Our most important goal by far is student success,” said Ellspermann.

“Students can’t succeed when they’re hungry, and we know that a large number of students – particularly community college students – have challenges with food insecurity.” The Noblesville campus also houses a Goodwill Excel Center, further expanding the opportunity to help non-traditional students break the cycle of poverty and move toward financial security.

A recent study by Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab found that more than 1/3 of college students had experienced food insecurity in the 30 days prior to the study. Nearly half of the 43,000 students interviewed across 20 states had skipped meals to save money for housing, utilities or child care.

As for Angela, she is on track to graduate in the spring. She plans to work and save money and hopefully achieve her four-year nursing degree in the future. “I just know that it is so hard for my granny to have to ask for help from a food pantry. I don’t want her to have to do that anymore, and if I can get through the next few months, I’ll graduate,  get a good job with benefits and be able to take care of both of us.”

Images: Courtesy of Indy Star