State of New Mexico announces new initiatives to address college food insecurity

Stephanie Montoya

The New Mexico Higher Education Department announced new initiatives to address food and housing insecurity on college campuses on Friday during an event at the University of New Mexico to present findings of the first statewide college basic needs study. 

The State will dedicate $1 million this year to support on-campus food and nutrition projects statewide and partner with Complete College America, a national college access organization, to improve supports for students struggling to meet their basic needs.  

“There is no reason that any New Mexican should have to struggle with finding their next meal or finding a safe place to live, especially those who are working toward their future by getting a degree.  We’ve made universal school lunches a reality for K-12 students, and we are boosting resources at the college level so that New Mexican’s don’t have to go hungry while going to school,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

“A majority of folks on college campuses – students, faculty, and staff – experience some form of needs insecurity. We can’t accept this as reality, and I’m glad the New Mexico Higher Education Department and the UNM Basic Needs Project are leading the effort to address food and housing insecurity on college campuses in New Mexico,” said Senator Ben Ray Luján. “Bringing stakeholders together to find solutions for New Mexicans is critical to strengthening our higher education communities in the state.”  

The 2023 College Basic Needs Study – a partnership between Gov. Lujan Grisham’s Food Initiative, NMHED, and researchers from UNM’s Basic Needs Project – surveyed over 15,000 students, faculty, and staff across 27 public colleges and universities. New Mexico is one of the first states to lead a statewide college basic needs study focused on all populations on college campuses.  

Responses to the survey revealed that 60 percent of undergraduate and graduate students attending public colleges and universities in New Mexico self-identify as food insecure, and 63 percent of students reported being housing insecure. Nearly 20 percent of students reported being homeless in the last 12 months. Basic needs insecurity was higher among students attending community colleges than those attending four-year universities. Students of color were also more likely to experience basic needs insecurity, as were students in the LGBTQ+ community. 

“Hunger is often framed as being character building for college students. The image of the starving student is too often dismissed as a normal rite of passage, but it is an unacceptable reality. Students pursue higher education as a means to escape from poverty, to better themselves, and to contribute to their communities, but many are doing so at the cost of their health. While the results are distressing, I am hopeful that this study will light the path forward for making meaningful progress on this issue,” said Higher Education Deputy Secretary Dr. Patricia Trujillo.  

“As educators and administrators, we understand that meeting the educational needs of our students is about more than providing a world-class academic experience. We know that food and shelter are also basic educational needs – and that when our students are food or housing insecure, it can lead to lower grades, poor health, and less engagement with campus life and campus services,” said UNM President Garnett Stokes. “It is our hope that leaders will use the data from this report to devise evidence-based approaches for meeting the food and housing needs not just of students, but also of faculty and staff at colleges and universities across the state. Their basic needs reflect our basic needs as institutions of higher education, and this statewide study will help all of us to better understand and respond to their experiences.” 

UNM students were a key part of the statewide study, helping to develop and distribute the survey. While many students hesitate to share their experiences with food and housing insecurity, some students have come forward to empower their peers and shed light on the issue. 

Since 2020, NMHED has awarded more than $1 million to projects aimed at improving food security on college campuses. The Department awarded food security grants to 15 campus-based food projects last year, including food pantries, campus gardens, and resource centers, supporting an estimated 15,000 students. Another $1 million will be awarded this year following a competitive application process the Department will announce in June.  

NMHED is also partnering with Complete College America to fund campus food and nutrition projects at ten public colleges and universities. The following schools will participate in the Intermediaries for Scale Institutional Transformation Project: 

  • Central New Mexico Community College 
  • Clovis Community College 
  • Doña Ana Community College 
  • Luna Community College 
  • New Mexico Highlands University 
  • New Mexico State University- Grants 
  • Northern New Mexico College 
  • Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute 
  • University of New Mexico- Main Campus 
  • University of New Mexico- Taos 

According to the survey, food and housing insecurity was also high among higher education faculty and staff, with 37 percent of faculty reporting food insecurity and 59 percent experiencing housing insecurity. Among staff, 40 percent reported being food insecure, and 50 percent were housing insecure. Among faculty, 17 percent reported being homeless in the last 12 months and 11 percent of staff reported homelessness.  

NMHED is leading a study on part-time and full-time faculty compensation across higher education. The data will be published in the Department’s annual report at the end of the year. Gov. Lujan Grisham approved a 6 percent pay increase for state employees this year, including for state-funded employees of public colleges and universities.