Methods. This study employed a survey research design. We used convenience sampling, sampling from the population of 361 students in all learning centers and degree programs (28% BSW and 70% MSW). In spring 2019, we sent recruitment messages through the department’s listservs--132 students completed the online survey. Survey items included socioeconomic background, housing, well-being, and food security. We used the USDA’s 6-item measure of 12-month food security. We conducted descriptive and bivariate analysis in SPSS to examine food insecurity prevalence and disparities.
Results. Over 40% of respondents were food insecure. We found no significant differences by program or learning center. We found racial disparities in food insecurity (U=983.0, p=.073). There were also significant associations between parent’s educational attainment (U=1533.0, p=.035)) and homeownership and food insecurity (X2=21.5, p<.001). Food insecurity was highest among renters—63% experienced food insecurity. Students living with partners or parents were less likely to experience food insecurity than were those living alone, with roommates, and with children ( X2=32.6, p=.001). Employment status, dependent status, and pet ownership were not associated with food security.
Discussion. This study advances our understanding of the extent of food insecurity among social work students. We found a rate of food insecurity much higher than that of the US population. We found students of color and first-generation college students were much more likely to be food insecure. Findings were largely consistent with the literature on student food insecurity, especially the one previous study of social work students.
This study highlights the need for educators and students to remember that those experiencing poverty and oppression are in the classroom as well as outside the classroom. As we encourage students to practice self-care, we should be aware that material hardship is one of many structural barriers to self-care experienced by students. For some students, unpaid field placement may be a barrier to meeting basic and self-care needs. Furthermore, results suggest a need for the profession to continue to work to elevate funding for social work students and pay for social work graduates.