Health Policy

Meeting Household Food Needs: A Qualitative Examination of Food Access among Parenting Community College Students

Meier, C.; Ryan, G.; Askelson, N.; Pieper, F.; Greene, M.; Buckert, A.; Rasmusson, A.


Community college students are experiencing food insecurity at high rates, and students with children are especially vulnerable with as many as 67% being food insecure. To understand food access in certain populations, previous research has examined the food shopping strategies implemented by families to manage a tight budget. In this study we employ a qualitative method to understand food access among parenting community college students, as no studies to date have explored their experiences. We used general qualitative inquiry to document the strategies students implemented to meet their food needs. We conducted interviews with community college students with at least one dependent child (N = 18). Participants were asked about shopping strategies and food choices when on a tight food budget. Interviews were recorded and transcribed. Three themes emerged related to the strategies used to manage tight household budgets. First, students reported shopping at multiple food stores to find the best prices. Second, they adjusted food budgets based on overall household expenses. Third, they only purchased foods that would be eaten by their children to meet food preferences. Interview results highlighted student adaptability and ingenuity, yet students often had to juggle competing factors and purchased less of certain foods to stay within their budget. Community colleges should provide programming to increase food access to improve student retention and completion rates. In addition to creating campus-based programs, institutions can work with local organizations to connect students to resources (e.g., food pantries) to provide students with additional support.