As policymakers debate how to tackle the financial pressures today’s college students face with rising tuition and record student debt, they must also tackle the rise in college hunger. Today 71% of undergraduate college students are single parents, come from low-income families, or work at least half-time, making this the first time in history that lower-income students are enrolling in colleges at higher rates than their middle-income classmates. But as the number of low-income students, often students of color who are the first in their families to attend college, has risen, so has the cost of higher education. The financial burden on students leaves little left for food and can pressure some to drop out of school.
Typically, enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the best defense against hunger, as it is designed to supplement food budgets and make it possible for low-income Texans to buy the food they need. But historically, most full-time college students have been barred from receiving SNAP — and of students who are eligible, only 4 in 10 are enrolled. To address food insecurity among college students, SNAP policies need to be modernized.
The Texas Legislature recently heard HB 2126 by Walle, which responds to the shift in college student demographics by allowing students enrolled in approved vocational or technical training programs to access SNAP. As nearly half of community college students in Texas report being food insecure, passing HB 2126 would be an easy way to support hungry students and allow them to concentrate on school.
While a long-term fix to college hunger is critical, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic Congress recently made temporary changes to SNAP to allow more students to qualify. Now, students who are eligible to participate in state or federally funded work study or who have an Expected Family Contribution of $0 may qualify for SNAP if they meet other eligibility requirements. To find out if you or a college student you know may qualify for SNAP, see Every Texan’s College Student’s Guide to Accessing SNAP Benefits (in shareable PDF form here).