The homepage of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab states “It’s hard to study if you’re hungry.” Sadly, hunger has found a home even on college campuses.

Recently, researchers at HOPE Lab completed a comprehensive study and their findings were surprising for many. They found that over one third of university and community college students do not have stable housing or enough money to afford enough food to not go hungry.

The Wisconsin HOPE Lab is a consortium of researchers representing different fields at the University of Wisconsin Madison who focus on strategies that make college more affordable and more accessible for everyone. Previously, we looked generational poverty through a lack of upward mobility and college still represents many individuals’ best possible option to improve their prospects beyond what their parents or caretakers have been able to provide. It is rather apparent that enrolling in college involves accruing costs and debts in tens of thousands of dollars for prospective students. Moreover, tuition comes with a plethora of other costs including, college housing, meal plans, books, and other expenses associated with independent living.

While a large number of college students may not be able to afford living on campus or moving out of their parents’ homes upon graduating high school, new students often commute long distances to universities or give up that opportunity and resort to more local community colleges. Yet the savings associated with attending community college do not translate into better financial situations for many as 42% of community college students indicated that they regularly struggled with getting adequate food in contrast to 36% of 4-year college students. Food and housing insecurity are real and are pervasive even among American youth seen as bright, successful, and on the right path to pursuing their professional careers.

The depiction of college life as a thoughtful time to discover one’s self while enjoying dormitory life, on campus activities, and the occasional party is an experience that applied to only a few and much more privileged students. The fact is that attending college involves major opportunity costs wherein young people wager their time, money, and daily energy for a future payoff. These sacrifices include years of not contributing to retirement plans, foregoing health insurance (especially among graduate students), and being unable to gain experience to advance in the workplace. All of this is set upon a backdrop where high paying wages and careers with real benefits seem increasingly rare in so many fields of study. Federal student loans can offer students good options but they also mean that students are taking an even bigger risk by accumulating a debt that averages approximately $ 28,000 per student in 2018 as this figure gradually rises each year (

More than just enduring hunger on a regular basis, the HOPE Lab research study identified that 36% of college students said that they were housing insecure and 9% were homeless, “homeless college students devote as much time to the classroom and to studying as do college students who are not homeless. However, they also work more, they commute more, spend more time taking care of other people and they sleep less.” Grades can suffer and upward mobility isn’t as certain as many of us assume it is as many college students hesitate to enroll in the 12-15 credit hours necessary to graduate within a four year time frame.

At Trinity Cafe we encourage local students to join us anytime for a meal and appreciate the youthful enthusiasm they bring as volunteers.
We invite you to spend an afternoon serving a meal to our guests at one of our two locations and please know, all volunteers are invited to join us at our table after regular service for a delicious meal and conversation.
We’re here to help, anyone in need.

Reflection by Chad Radwan – Communications VISTA, Trinity Cafe