Over 50% of College Students Struggle with Food Insecurity: Let Students Eat Campaign Aims to #AdvocateFirstgen

The Center / October 03, 2023

Female student eating while studying

During their time enrolled in colleges, technical schools, or universities, more than 50% of students struggle with food insecurity.1

Food insecurity is defined as “the lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.”2 A campaign to bring attention to college student food insecurity, Let Students Eat, recently launched and provides a multi-pronged approach to #AdvocateFirstgen. 

The diverse intersectional identities of first-generation college students are well-documented.3

The first-generation student identity also encompasses students from various socioeconomic backgrounds, including low- and limited-income students. Many of these students attend institutions of higher education with upward mobility in mind. 

23% of undergraduates and 12% of graduate students are experiencing food insecurity which translates to over 4 million college students struggling to meet basic needs.

The #LetStudentsEat campaign centers on advocating for updates to SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), a federal program that offers nutrition assistance to eligible low-income individuals and families. Students between the ages of 18-49 who are enrolled at institutions of higher education are eligible to receive SNAP benefits if they are below income and resource thresholds and meet other criteria. Adjustments to the current rules can help ease the problem of food insecurity and, in turn, lead to an increase in retention rates among students experiencing basic needs insecurity.4

Recently released data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS 20) confirmed that 23% of undergraduates and 12% of graduate students are experiencing food insecurity which translates to over 4 million college students struggling to meet basic needs.5

By simplifying eligibility requirements for college students to access SNAP benefits, students could focus more on their studies and less on meeting their basic nutritional needs. 

One aspect of the advocacy campaign provides educational materials, including resources demonstrating the significant financial implications of eligible college students not participating in the SNAP program, leaving approximately 3 billion dollarsundistributed. Other resources provide recommendations for expanding eligibility criteria and aligning the FAFSA and SNAP recertification processes. 

The second aspect of the campaign focuses on engaging college students and others in a letter-writing campaign to Congress. Student organizations may be particularly interested in participating in this campaign. By demonstrating widespread support for making legislative changes to the SNAP eligibility criteria, the advocacy campaign aims to create a greater sense of urgency and awareness among members of Congress to adopt the reforms outlined in the 2023 Farm Bill which includes the SNAP benefit provisions. 

By joining the #LetStudentsEat campaign, higher education professionals and college students can bring attention to the significant number of low-income college students who are struggling with hunger while they work on completing their education. Given the disproportionate number of first-generation college students and students of color who fall in this category, this campaign provides a timely opportunity to #AdvocateFirstgen. 


How does your institution advocate for first-generation students?
Share your work with us across social media with #AdvocateFirstgen!




2ACE2019: An Examination of Food Insecurity in Higher Education. 2019. https://www.higheredtoday.org/2019/03/14/ace2019-examination-food-insecurity-higher-education/

3RTI International. (2019). First-generation College Students: Demographic Characteristics and Postsecondary Enrollment. Washington, DC: NASPA. Retrieved from https://firstgen.naspa.org/files/dmfile/FactSheet-01.pdf

4 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2332858420972619

5 https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/npsas/

6 https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-19-95