President forms task force to look at student food and housing security

February 05, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Food and housing insecurity is a growing issue for students at colleges and universities across the United States. Recent reports from both The Hope Center and the U.S. General Accounting Office have found these issues on college campuses nationwide. To help address this problem at Penn State, University President Eric Barron has formed a University Task Force on Food and Housing Security.

When students have substantial unmet need after payment of tuition and fees, some may face considerable hardship, and go without food or have an inability to pay for housing, Barron said. In addition, the cost of attendance may be a deterrent to enrollment at a university in the first place, according to Barron. Penn State considers the full cost of an education, including food and housing security, in its Access and Affordability initiatives.  

The task force, Barron said, has been asked to evaluate challenges, identify existing initiatives that already are in place, identify gaps, and develop innovative approaches.

“Food and housing insecurity can have a profound effect on a student’s ability to thrive. These issues are so important, at a fundamental level, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to be creative in our approach to this challenge,” Barron said.

“Class gifts at University Park over the past four years have included support for mental health and wellness, the Lion’s Pantry food bank, the Student Farm, and for textbooks and digital materials in the libraries for those who couldn’t afford them,” said Barron. “Through these and other initiatives, our students are sending a clear message about their concern for the welfare of their fellow students. Theirs is an important message, and I am charging this task force with exploring these issues and putting forth innovative solutions that will complement and enhance current efforts.”

Since 2014, Penn State’s student-initiated food bank at University Park, the Lion’s Pantry, has recognized that some students face hardships related to their ability to afford food, said Barron. Many of Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses also have food pantries and initiatives to assist students dealing with food insecurity, including Abington, AltoonaBehrend, Berks, Brandywine, DuBois, Greater Allegheny, Harrisburg, Lehigh Valley, Mont Alto and Penn College.

Ongoing University initiatives to find cost savings, and the desire by University leadership and the Board of Trustees to use these savings to promote access, success and affordability, provide an opportunity for the University to think broadly and to be innovative, said Barron. The task force is encouraged to develop ideas and proposals that have the potential to be impactful, even if they might require policy changes or legislative action.

With this goal in mind, Barron has charged the task force to:

— Assess the challenge: To the extent possible, assess the magnitude of the issue of food and housing insecurity across the full spectrum of Penn State students.

— Review and improve current programming: Examine all current activities associated with food and housing security and provide recommendations. Improvements might include raising the visibility of current programs, better coordination of current efforts, or new programs or greater investment that would enhance current efforts.    

— Consider new initiatives: The task force has been asked to make recommendations about shifts toward policies and programs that have the best chance of moving the needle on food and housing insecurity among students. 

According to the committee’s charge, among the best practices that might be considered are the creation of food or housing grants; the ability to create backstops at times of crisis; and development of subsidized housing options for students in need, among others.

— Explore philanthropic opportunities: Consider the potential for philanthropy to impact student food and housing security. 

The members of the Task Force on Food and Housing Security are:

  • John Papazoglou, associate vice president for Auxiliary and Business Services (co-chair)
  • Andrea Dowhower, associate vice president for Student Affairs (co-chair)
  • Anna Barone, director of Student Care & Advocacy
  • Barry Bram, senior director for Student Engagement Programs
  • Charima Young, director of Local Government and Community Relations
  • Denise Poole, director of Student Success Initiatives
  • Kris Meyer, executive director of Donor Relations
  • Kelly Austin, associate vice president for Administration, Commonwealth Campuses
  • Jacqueline Edmondson, chancellor, Penn State Greater Allegheny
  • Stephanie Danette Preston, associate dean for Graduate Educational Equity
  • Geoff Mamerow, assistant director for Outcomes Assessment
  • Tim Robicheaux, Faculty Senate chair of Student Life
  • Laura McKinney, president, University Park Undergraduate Association
  • Jake Griggs, vice president, University Park Undergraduate Association
  • Kenneth Gatten III, president, Council of Commonwealth Student Governments
  • Heather Witherow, president, Penn State DuBois Student Government Association
  • Sayre Bradley, president, The Lion’s Pantry
  • Mariam Taleb, graduate student
  • Terry Jarianna Torres Cruz, graduate student

Additional members will be added as appropriate. A report from the task force is expected later this spring.

Last Updated February 19, 2020