Today, six Oklahoma public colleges and universities were recognized for their selection to receive inaugural grant awards through the Oklahoma Hunger-Free Campus Act pilot program. Rep. Daniel Pae; Rep. Mark McBride; Kendra Loper, chief external relations officer, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma (RFBO); and Chancellor Allison D. Garrett spoke during the event.
Rep. Pae, R-Lawton, authored HB 3417 in the 2022 regular session to combat hunger at higher education institutions. The bill led to an increase in the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s FY23 budget allocation to fund the Hunger-Free Campus Act, a pilot program coordinated as a joint effort of the State Regents and the RFBO.
Oklahoma City Community College, Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, Redlands Community College, Rose State College, Southwestern Oklahoma State University and Tulsa Community College were selected to receive Hunger-Free Campus Act pilot program grants. Each campus will receive a grant award of $26,667.
“Many Oklahoma college students face food insecurity,” said Garrett. “We thank Rep. Pae for his strong voice in support of grant funding for our colleges and universities, which will enable these six institutions to expand existing efforts to ensure students can continue their education without the distraction of hunger.”
The purpose of the Oklahoma Hunger-Free Campus Act pilot grant program is to address post-secondary student hunger by leveraging more sustainable solutions to address basic food needs on campuses, raising and enhancing awareness of services currently offered on campuses that address basic food needs, and cultivating strategic partnerships at the local, state, and national levels to address food insecurity among students.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Oklahoma ranks fourth in the nation in food insecurity, and the 2021 Annual Impact Report of Hunger-Free Oklahoma reports that nearly 15% of Oklahomans are food-insecure, well above the national average of 10.5%. Food insecure students are more likely to fail assignments and exams, withdraw from courses, and have lower grade point averages, all barriers to college completion.
“With low-paying jobs or little time for work as they juggle busy class schedules, college students often have plenty on their plate except food,” Pae said. “Our goal is to support strategies that combat hunger on college campuses, including outreach to students to provide available resources that will help alleviate food insecurity.”
“The Regional Food Bank is pleased that the Oklahoma Hunger-Free Campus Act is addressing the pressing issue of hunger among our college students,” said Dr. Stacy Dykstra, CEO of RFBO. “Thank you to our lawmakers, the Oklahoma State Regents and everyone who has contributed to this vital initiative. It truly is an investment in this state’s future.”
The Hunger-Free Campus Act pilot program will be funded for five years with the selected institutions, as funding permits. The awarded institutions will form a steering committee to guide the work and collect and report program outcomes.