Can Food Scholarships Reduce Inequality by Improving College Persistence Among Community College Students?

Do food scholarships improve academic performance and persistence among low-income community college students?

Sixty percent of community college students leave school within a year of enrolling. Growing evidence suggests that food insecurity—a lack of access to affordable and nutritious food that is linked to the rising costs of college tuition and housing—affects the persistence of low-income students, particularly low-income, ethnic minority students, who withdraw from community college at higher rates than White peers. This study focuses on an innovative program to boost low-income students’ college attainment by reducing their food insecurity by offering a “food scholarship,” which enables recipients to obtain groceries at a mobile or local food pantry. The team hypothesizes that food security will improve students’ memory, ability to focus on schoolwork, and motivation to succeed, thus improving their outcomes. They predict more benefits for Latino and African American students, since they tend to face greater challenges to accessing affordable and nutritious food as compared to White students. The sample will include 1,000 low-income students at Houston Community College, ages 19–25, half of whom will be offered the food scholarship. Both scholarship recipients and a matched group of non-recipients will be surveyed three times, prior to, during, and following one academic year. The team will analyze survey and administrative data to examine program effects on students’ term-to-term retention rates, term grades, and course and credit completion. To understand how students experience the intervention, the team will interview non- or infrequent users, moderate users, and more frequent users.

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