The Degree of Hunger: SEAP helps Tennessee students tackle food insecurity on college campuses

Focus on your schoolwork: It’s a mantra sung to students at the embarkment and throughout the journey of their college career. But for many students, that measure is nearly impossible when facing challenges such as the lack of food, housing, transportation and health care.

Last year, The Hope Center found that nearly 3 out of 5 college students experienced basic needs insecurities. It’s this reality that landed some Tennessee students on the front line of advocating for food security on college campuses. 

In March, {#} students with the Student Basic Needs Coalition (SBNC) met with their elected officials in Nashville. The goal of their meeting was to champion HB 1669/SB 1825, which requires the executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to identify and take decisive action to alleviate food insecurity at public universities.


Through its partnership, the Southern Economic Advancement Project (SEAP) provided the SBNC with a {$} grant to advance the agenda of ensuring all students have an equitable college experience that leads to graduation. Along with Tennessee, SBNC students in West Virginia are also making waves thanks to SEAP’s funding.

SBNC’s West Virginia State Coalition introduced legislation to support the development of a basic needs office within student services. The bill, HB 4705, states that “at least one-third of two-year students are housing insecure, including up to 14 percent who are homeless, whereas up to 19 percent of four-year students are housing insecure.”

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Throughout the pandemic, federal dollars helped temporarily tackle some of the challenges faced by college students. In December 2020, Congress passed an act to expand the eligibility for college students needing food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). However, this aid is set to expire on April 16, 2022.

“When a college student has their security blanket ripped from underneath them, it poses a real challenge to whether or not they will complete their degree,” said Sarah Beth Gehl, SEAP’s Executive Director. “SEAP is proud to support the SBNC’s efforts in ensuring all students, especially those from low-income families and communities, have access to basic, life-sustaining necessities that will lead to earning a college degree.”

To learn more about SEAP’s microgrants and mission, visit here.