- Colleges vying to recruit more low-income students need to be aware of unique issues they face, including food insecurity, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office that cites research indicating more than 30% of college students lack adequate access to food.
- Many colleges and students aren't aware of or don't understand the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the report notes, with more than half (57%, or 1.8 million) of low-income, at-risk students who would likely qualify for the program not participating.
- The report calls for the Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, which oversees SNAP, to clarify its eligibility information, and for state agencies administering it to provide more guidance to students.
While students who attend college part-time generally aren't considered eligible for SNAP, the report notes there are several ways they can meet the criteria to receive support, including if they receive other forms of public assistance, work at least 20 hours per week or have a dependent under the age of 6. While many students may be unaware of such assistance, experts say students are often embarrassed to report they are struggling.
The National Conference of State Legislatures last spring cited a study that showed nearly half (48%) of college students report food insecurity, and called for states to take several steps: align SNAP with financial aid eligibility; allow college enrollment to be considered part of SNAP's employment requirement; and make the SNAP eligibility and applications easier; and assist colleges in developing food assistance programs.
States such as California and New York have taken action to tackle the problem, the report notes. It also recognized Ohio University for allowing a university venue to accept SNAP benefits and for starting an on-campus food pantry, among other measures. Arizona State University earned a mention for a program that provides students with meal vouchers and then helps them find longer-term solutions, such as access to a food pantry or help with SNAP applications.
North Shore Community College, in Danvers, Mass., found through a survey that nearly 70% of its students struggle with housing or food insecurity. It responded with a market of donated food, emergency loans and food vouchers. And in August, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that by the end of the fall 2018 semester, all colleges in the public State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) systems would have a food pantry or other similar spot for students to access food.
Of the 14 colleges surveyed in the GAO report, all had on-campus food pantries that offered free food, most provided emergency funds for students, and many had centralized services to help students with applications for federal benefit programs such as SNAP.
It also reviewed 31 research studies on the issue, which rated food insecurity among college students between 9% to over 50%. The majority of those studies put the figure at more than 30%.