The effect of food insecurity during college on graduation and type of degree attained: evidence from a nationally representative longitudinal survey

Wolfson et al. / Public Health Nutrition / July 2021

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This study examines the effect of food insecurity during college on graduation and degree attainment. The authors used a secondary analysis of longitudinal panel data to measure food insecurity concurrent with college enrollment using the 18-question USDA Household Food Security Survey Module. Educational attainment was measured in 2015-2017 via two questions about college completion and highest degree attained. Logistic and multinomial-logit models adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics were estimated. This study used a nationally representative, balanced panel of 1,574 college students in the US in 1999-2003 with follow-up through 2015-2017 from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. In 1999-2003, 14.5% of college students were food insecure and were more likely to be older, non-White, and first-generation students. In adjusted models, food insecurity was associated with lower odds of college graduation (OR 0.57, 95% CI: 0.37, 0.88, p=0.01) and lower likelihood of obtaining a Bachelor’s degree (RRR 0.57 95% CI: 0.35, 0.92, p=0.02) or graduate/professional degree (RRR 0.39, 95% CI: 0.17, 0.86, p=0.022). These associations were more pronounced among first-generation students. 47.2% of first-generation students who experienced food insecurity graduated from college; food insecure first-generation students were less likely to graduate compared to first-generation students who were food secure (47.2% vs. 59.3%, p=0.020) and non-first-generation students who were food insecure (47.2% vs. 65.2%, p=0.037). Food insecurity during college is a barrier to graduation and higher degree attainment, particularly for first-generation students. Existing policies and programs that help mitigate food insecurity should be expanded and more accessible to the college student population.