Students get their lunch from a salad bar at the school cafeteria as some of more than 8,000lbs of locally grown broccoli from a partnership between Farm to School and Healthy School Meals is served at Marston Middle School in San Diego, California March 7, 2011. Reuters

Half of today’s college students are experiencing some type of hunger, according to a recent survey. One in four college students is going hungry and half are food insecure, the National Institute of Health reported Sunday.

The study, conducted by the University of Connecticut Public Interest Research Group, the College and University Food Bank Alliance and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger surveyed 3,765 college students about their access to food. Students from eight community colleges and 26 four-year colleges across 12 states weighed in. Despite widespread access to meal plans and high college employment rates, the survey found that a significant portion of the student population was still going hungry.

The study concluded that 48 percent of students were food insecure and 22 percent of them had such low levels of food security that they qualified as hungry. Food insecurity refers to a lack of sufficient amounts of affordable, nutritious food. About 64 percent of these food insecure students reported having trouble with housing and 32 percent said it had a tangible impact on their education.

Discrepancies existed among different groups depending on certain factors. Students who had at least one parent who had attended college had slightly lower rates of food insecurity, while first-generation college students were more likely to experience hunger.

“Whether due to nutritional deficits or the stress and distraction of dealing with financial hardship, food insecurity can compromise students’ ability to perform in their classes,” the survey said.

The researchers urged colleges to take action by implementing food pantries, campus gardens or other programs. They also implored lawmakers to improve students’ access to federal food programs.

“These findings make it clear that we need to do more to alleviate student poverty and its symptoms,” said Claire Cady, one of the report’s authors and director of the College and University Food Bank Alliance. “Student hunger is a clear barrier to student success.”