Congress May Soon End SNAP Benefits for College Students. Here’s Why That Matters.

One-third of college students face food insecurity. Discover how changes to SNAP rules could make the food insecurity crisis even worse on campus.
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More than 1 in 3 college students face food insecurity, according to the 2021 Hope Center Student Basic Needs Survey.

During the pandemic, many of those students qualified for temporary food assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which runs the SNAP program. Up to 3 million college students joined SNAP. But these learners could soon lose their food benefits. And that could prove disastrous for millions of college students.

Overview of SNAP Benefits and College Students

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides food benefits for low-income people. College students qualify for SNAP benefits. However, the eligibility rules recently changed.

During the pandemic, Congress waived the work requirement for SNAP recipients. Instead of needing to work 20 hours per week in addition to enrolling in school, college students could qualify with part-time enrollment and a low income. That exemption ended on July 1, 2023.

Recipients must recertify annually, so 3 million students could lose their SNAP benefits in 2024.

The Importance of SNAP Benefits for College Students

SNAP benefits play a vital role in addressing pervasive food insecurity among college students. What’s more, food benefits help students academically. Not surprisingly, food-insecure students report more stress and anxiety, according to a 2021 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health study. That translates to lower GPAs along with poor health outcomes.

What consequences will colleges face if millions of students lose SNAP benefits? The number of food-insecure students will grow, particularly at community colleges, and many will face a difficult choice between academics and work.

  • More food-insecure students: In 2021, more than 1 in 3 college students said they faced food insecurity. With the end of the expanded SNAP benefits, on top of rising inflation, more students will struggle to pay for their food.
  • Choosing between work and school: Under the new SNAP eligibility rules, college students must work 20 hours a week to qualify for benefits. For some recipients, that might require them to drop classes to increase their work hours.
  • Lower graduation rates: Working students are less likely to graduate than their non-working peers, according to a 2023 American Educational Research Association study. Not surprisingly, students who work also take longer to graduate. Students who work more to qualify for SNAP will likely see a negative impact on their education.

The Impact on College Affordability and Financial Stability

According to the USDA, Americans spent 11.3% of their disposable income on food in 2022. That’s the highest percentage since the 1980s. With food making up a growing portion of people’s budgets, losing SNAP benefits will have an even larger negative impact on college students.

Undergrads already face high financial burdens, from rising tuition costs to growing living expenses. Compensating for the loss of SNAP benefits could mean working more hours, relying on other support systems, or taking out more student loans.

Food insecurity during college can even impact long-term financial stability. According to a 2021 Johns Hopkins study, food-insecure college students were 43% less likely to finish their degrees — which can mean a lower earning potential for decades.

The Connection Between Food Insecurity and Student Success

Study after study demonstrates a strong connection between food insecurity and poor academic performance. Researchers at the University of South Florida determined that 3 in 4 students with low GPAs were food insecure.

Food insecurity negatively impacts concentration, cognitive abilities, and overall well-being. It also impacts graduation rates. Less than half of food-insecure, first-generation students graduated from college, per the Johns Hopkins study.

Addressing food insecurity thus represents a key component of supporting student success in higher education.

Alternative Solutions and Advocacy Efforts

Many organizations, including colleges, are working to address food insecurity and support students’ basic needs. You can get involved by volunteering at campus food banks and getting involved with meal swipe donation drives.

Support food insecurity initiatives and advocate for policies prioritizing food security, like the alternative solutions listed below.

Campus-Based Food Pantries

A growing number of colleges offer food pantries for students. Some even offer 24-hour access to food pantries to accommodate busy schedules.

Since these food pantries typically run on donations, one of the best ways to support students is to contribute to a local campus food pantry. You can also visit Feeding America to find off-campus food banks.

Meal Vouchers and Community Programs

Local meal voucher programs provide food assistance to eligible residents, including college students. Similarly, many community organizations run emergency food programs.

College students may not realize they’re eligible for these programs, so outreach plays an important role. Donations to community programs can help food-insecure college students. Visit Community Food Share to learn about food programs, donate, or volunteer.

Swipe-Card Donation System

Many campuses allow students to donate meals during swipe drives. These programs distribute meal points and swipes to food-insecure students. For example, Swipe Out Hunger partners with more than 600 colleges to address food insecurity.

Building a Supportive Future

The return of work requirements for SNAP benefits will mean more food-insecure college students. Swipe Out Hunger has already warned colleges to prepare for the challenge. Efforts by policymakers to remove the work requirement for college students have so far failed.

Maintaining SNAP benefits ensures the well-being and academic success of college students. Advocating for supportive policies can help students facing food insecurity.