SNAP to the Rescue for Hunger on College Campuses

Recent media reports confirm what many have been seeing on college campuses for some time: more students than you might imagine struggle with food insecurity. Historically, many students have been able to attend college with help from their families, and those with fewer resources relied on Pell Grants and other federal and state financial aid to cover a greater portion of college costs. The current demographics of this population may be surprising.

  • 51 percent of college students are financially independent from their parents
  • 26 percent of college students are parents themselves
  • 62 percent are employed at least part-time
  • 51 percent of undergraduates have low incomes
  • 48 percent of college students reported experiencing food insecurity in the previous 30 days.

These numbers were even higher for students of color and first-generation students. Additionally, community college students have a particularly difficult time meeting their nutrition needs; among those who work and receive financial aid, nearly a third still experience food or housing insecurity. Research proves that these barriers to food and shelter impede academic performance and graduation rates.

The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is generally not available to students who attend college more than half time, although current federal law allows for specific exceptions. However, more low-income college students could greatly benefit from the program’s small monthly supplement for purchasing food. Last month Representative Al Lawson (D-FL) introduced H.R. 3875, the College Student Hunger Act of 2017. It would allow college students who are enrolled at least half-time to get SNAP if they qualify for the maximum Pell Grant amount because they have a zero Expected Family Contribution, or are defined as independent for financial aid purposes in any one of the following areas: in foster care, a veteran of the Armed Forces, or are classified as an unaccompanied youth who is homeless.

As the cost of college education continues to rise and student aid fails to keep up, students are left with less money to afford food, which can harm their ability to persist in college and complete their studies. Student hunger is a growing concern among college administrators, advocates, and legislators. Colleges are grappling with how to combat this problem; many have started innovative programs, such as free farmers markets and food pantries, and some are helping students apply for SNAP. Ensuring that more low-income college students have access to SNAP would help address this issue. The College Student Hunger Act is part of Representative Lawson’s Let’s Feed America Campaign and a great step toward eliminating food insecurity for all segments of our population.