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Food Insecurity at Urban Universities: USU’s Collaborative Opportunity Grant

A hallmark of USU’s programming, the Collaborative Opportunity Grant (COG) is a seed funding initiative that leverages the role of urban universities as a part of an interconnected urban ecosystem. All COG projects must center on a collaboration between a university and an external organization such as community-based organizations, to address a specific student success problem. The 2019-2020 COG recipients, University at Albany, University of Toledo, and University of Washington Tacoma, received $50,000 to address food insecurity among their students, as a holistic approach to student success. This blog will feature the stories of these universities over the upcoming month, to highlight their lessons learned, and to describe how their innovative partnerships helped address their students’ areas of critical need.

The COG grant was coming to a close when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We realized there was a need to understand and articulate the impact of the pandemic on food insecurity among urban university community members. Knowing that university leaders were forced to think more critically about how they could and should address food access, and other basic need crises that were exacerbated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, USU designed a short-term, qualitative inquiry project to focus on the perceptions and experiences of students, faculty and staff during the Fall 2020 semester. University of New Orleans and Morgan State University joined the 3 original COG grantees as participants in the qualitative inquiry project. Together, the institutions surveyed and interviewed over 200 participants on topics such as access to food, impact on academics, equity and inclusion, and systemic barriers. The findings from this project are published in USU’s newest report linked here.

Ultimately both the COG cohort, and the COVID-19 inquiry project shine a light on the need for universities to consider indicators of student need that extend beyond the classroom or traditional success metrics. As a result we present a Call to Action for universities that identified nine ways to address food insecurity on their campuses.


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