Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, in New York and across the nation, college students were among the millions of Americans regularly facing food insecurity and hunger. The pandemic pushed many more, including students enrolled at City University of New York (CUNY) and State University of New York (SUNY), into food insecurity. It also highlighted the limits of prior approaches to ensuring food access and reducing hunger on college campuses. Increased student, media, and government attention to college student food insecurity has put new pressure on university leaders to take on this problem, even in the face of strained budgets and competing needs. Fortunately, practical and economical solutions are available for tackling college food insecurity. This guide describes how public universities, community colleges, and other institutions of higher education that serve low-income students can significantly reduce hunger and food insecurity by putting SNAP enrollment campaigns at the center of their food security initiatives. This strategy brings new federal dollars into the food budgets of food-insecure students and their families, gives them the choice of using any of the thousands of food stores that accept SNAP, and reduces demand at campus food pantries that often lack food supplies and staffing to meet the need. Most importantly, by allowing more food-secure students to focus on school work, SNAP enrollment campaigns can help colleges achieve their retention and graduation goals.

As students return to campus in Fall 2021 and Spring 2022, they are facing the health, educational, and economic consequences of COVID-19. Every institution of higher education should make it a priority to enroll every eligible student in SNAP. Anything less than full enrollment of eligible students means that colleges leave federal funding “on the table” to the great disadvantage of their students, their academic goals, and their financial bottom lines.

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