Ramen noodles and a vending-machine soda. It's jokingly seen as the classic go-to meal for college students, but a new report suggests this isn't anything to laugh at.

In a national survey of students at 34 higher education institutions across the United States, including Rutgers Univeristy, 48 percent reported food insecurity in the previous month. Food insecurity is defined as a lack of reliable access to sufficient affordable and nutritious food. Twenty-two percent reported very low levels of food security.

The survey from four campus-based organizations, including Student Public Interest Research Groups, finds food insecurity occurs regularly at both two-year and four-year institutions, potentially undermining the educational success of thousands of students.

"Hunger is now a reality for far too many college students," said Spoorthi Marti, an intern with NJPIRG and a live-at-home freshman at Rutgers University.

Marti does not participate in a campus dining plan and plenty of her meals have come from vending machines since the start of the academic year. But meal plans do not eliminate the threat of food insecurity, according to the report.

hungry students
Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ

Among the respondents from four-year schools, 43 percent of students with meal plans still struggled to access quality food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

"What mostly happens is when students enroll in meal plans, they buy about 7 to 14 meals per week," Marti explained. "Sometimes they go hungry because they don't have any meal plans left that week."

Of the students citing food insecurity, 56 percent reported having a paying job.

The report calls on additional research to better understand the food security issue on college campuses and explore effective solutions. It says colleges can do their part through a number of steps, such as the creation of campus food pantries and campus community gardens, and policymakers can help the cause by expanding food stamp eligibility for college students.

Rutgers this summer joined a handful of New Jersey colleges and universities to offer a free food pantry.

Elsewhere, programs are being developed to help students in need.

Oregon State University and Humboldt State University are the nation's first schools to have on-campus stores accepting food stamps.

Through a mobile app, Fresno State in California can notify students when an on-campus catered event has ended and there's leftover food available.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.