ST. PAUL — Well over half of Minnesota State college and university students struggle to pay for food or housing, according to a survey released Thursday, March 5.

College-based food pantries and emergency grant programs have popped up across the state in recent years amid growing awareness of students’ inability to cover basic needs.

But “clearly, more needs to be done,” said Devinder Malhotra, chancellor for the higher education system, who called the figures “eye-opening.”

The Temple University-based Hope Center for College, Community and Justice surveyed nearly 10,000 students at 25 Minnesota State colleges and three universities.

They found 49 percent of college students struggled to pay for housing in the past year and 42 percent had a hard time affording decent food in the previous month.

Sixty percent of college students and 54 percent at universities experienced either housing or food insecurity or both.

Noting that students of color are more likely to struggle financially, Malhotra said helping students pay for basic needs will be critical for the system as it seeks to close equity gaps at every campus by 2030.

“Many of those who drop out are in good academic standing,” he said. “They drop out because life happens.”

Malhotra is encouraging colleges and universities to build more relationships with area businesses and nonprofits to help cover those needs.

System role

Oballa Oballa had a hard time paying for food while studying at Riverland Community College in Austin. Now president of Lead MN, the association for the state’s two-year public college students, Oballa wrote Malhotra a letter in January urging system leaders to take food insecurity seriously.

“Ignoring the issue of food insecurity will only continue to widen the opportunity gap that exists for our most underrepresented students,” he wrote.

Both Oballa and the Hope Center say the Minnesota State system should take the lead on basic needs support rather than leaving it up to the individuals schools.

The Hope Center also recommends:

• Establishing a single webpage listing both school and community resources.

• Reducing the administrative burden on students seeking support.

• Encouraging faculty to add a note to their syllabi informing students about how to access food and housing resources.

State grants