It’s hard to think when you’re hungry.
In education, it’s an old adage. Ask any teacher at a school with a sizable percentage of students who are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch and they will tell about the limits of the attention span of a hungry youngster.
Who knew you could apply the same adage to our college students?
Back in February, the University of West Florida opened the Argo Pantry, an on campus food pantry for students who needed help finding a steady source of nutritious food.
Dr. Lusharon Wiley, director of case management services in the Dean of Students Office, said at the time it was a way for the university to help the growing number of students facing food insecurity.
UWF’s partnership with Manna Food Pantries is a great example of the way public entities can partner with private groups to address a need in their midst.
It also ought to break your heart. And not only because UWF has enough students uncertain of where their next meal will come from that they need a food pantry.
Pensacola’s UWF is the sixth university in the state to open a food pantry on campus. The others are the University of Central Florida, Florida State, Florida Gulf Coast, University of North Florida, and the University of South Florida.
Wiley notes that college students, who are considered part of the household until they are 26, are not typically eligible for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or food stamps.
At UWF, 44 percent of the 10,156-member student body attends on Pell grants, a program that helps undergraduates from low-income families. Of the six state universities with food pantries, none has a higher percentage of Pell Grant recipients than UWF.
What does it say about the middle class that six of this state’s universities need food pantries on campus to help students get by?
And what does it say about the economy into which we are sending these graduates when the median wage of a UWF graduate working in Florida one year after graduation is $31,000?
A wage rate that, by the way, in Escambia County makes that graduate (if he or she is single) eligible for “workforce housing” according to HUD’s income guidelines.
The Miami Herald recently reported that according to the Tuition Tracker database (www.tuitiontracker.org), the rising cost of college in Florida is hitting poorer students harder than their more well-off peers.
Wiley at UWF said that the students who have been served by the Argo Pantry are being hit in a couple of ways. Some are seeing their family income reduced by recessionary pressures.
Some saw their own work hours cut, forcing them to decide essentially to buy their textbooks or to eat. Keep that in mind the next time you hear a soundbite about people “sponging” off the public dole.
As our friends in the Legislature get busy in Tallahassee, they will talk a lot about how higher education is the key to bright future, a robust economy and the growth of a critical mass of intellectual capital that spurs innovation, job creation and progress.
Those words will ring hollow if more of our students are forced to decide between their studies and sustenance.