Food insecurity is associated with poorer educational outcomes across the education spectrum. At the K–12 level, receipt of food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) or through universal school lunch is associated with positive, if small, effects on student outcomes. Little is known, however, about the relationship between SNAP receipt and college students’ academic outcomes.
As a first step toward answering this question, we use data from Virginia’s community colleges to understand who enrolls in SNAP and how it is associated with persistence. We find that community college students who take up SNAP appear to experience more financial disadvantages than their potentially eligible peers who do not enroll in SNAP. On the question of outcomes, we find that SNAP receipt is not associated with a significant difference in short-term persistence, compared with similar students who did not receive SNAP.
These findings point to the need for additional research. For example, a randomized controlled trial, where community college students who are eligible for SNAP are randomly encouraged to take up the benefit, might better capture SNAP’s effects on outcomes. Further study of how students use campus-based supports like food pantries could illuminate how on-campus services might substitute for social safety net programs and potentially facilitate student success. Finally, future research could explore whether the need for students to work to meet restrictive SNAP eligibility requirements negates the positive effects of receiving food assistance.
Policymakers who wish to further support low-income students have several potential policy options, including notifying students of their SNAP eligibility, expanding SNAP eligibility for college students, and funding campus-based supports.