Keeping the ‘Great Equalizer’ Fed: SNAP Access and Young Adults’ Educational Engagement

Would making SNAP benefits available to young adults with limited income improve their post-secondary educational attainment?

Despite numerous policy efforts to increase access to higher education, a socioeconomic gap persists. A potential lever for reducing this inequality is the provision of supplemental support for young adults who struggle to afford higher education and its associated costs. Research suggests that, given increasing food insecurity among college students, nutrition assistance may remove one barrier to college enrollment and persistence. However, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) has work requirements that often prevent benefits to college students, except where states or counties obtain waivers. This study asks whether making SNAP benefits available to young adults ages 18–25 with limited income improves their post-secondary educational attainment. The team will conduct descriptive analyses of county-level waiver data to examine whether lifting federal waiver requirements is associated with increases in SNAP participation. Using several nationally representative, longitudinal datasets, they will also estimate whether increased SNAP participation leads to improved educational outcomes. Analyses will use county-specific waivers as the instrument for SNAP participation and control for geographic mobility, and will isolate the effects of waivers by including relevant omitted variables, such as state and county labor market conditions. Findings that SNAP benefits improve post-secondary outcomes would provide strong evidence for lifting policy restrictions on young adults in school.

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