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Filling the Gap: CalFresh Eligibility Among University of California and California Community College Students

REPORT: Filling the Gap: CalFresh Eligibility Among University of California and California Community College Students  PDF

PRESS RELEASE: New Report Finds the Majority of California College Students Who Are Eligible for CalFresh Benefits Don’t Participate

WEBINAR RECORDING: Filling the Gap In June 2024, the California Policy Lab presented these findings during a webinar where Senator Nancy Skinner provided and introduction and our partners also shared their perspectives on the research.

CalFresh is California’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also commonly known as Food Stamps. In recent years, California has prioritized enrolling more students into CalFresh (for example, by funding Basic Needs Centers that help students to enroll), but these efforts have been hampered by a lack of understanding about how many students are eligible, and of that group, how many enroll. College students face a unique set of eligibility rules that advocates suggest may deter students from applying or staying enrolled.

This report is the first of its kind to link college enrollment and financial aid application data and then compare it to CalFresh eligibility rules in order to create more precise estimates of how many students are likely eligible for CalFresh. Through this process, they also pinpointed the eligibility criteria and program rules that appear to have the biggest impact in determining eligibility.

Key Findings

1. 17% of all California Community College students were likely eligible for CalFresh, compared to 31% of UC undergraduate students, and 6% of UC graduate students. The lower eligibility rates for community college students is likely due to more of these students living with their parents – which makes them less likely to qualify.

2. Among students who were eligible, 30% of community college students received CalFresh benefits in the Fall of 2019, as compared to 22% of UC undergraduate students, and 29% of UC graduate students.

3. The average take-up rate among all California Community College students is 30%, and the average take-up rate for undergraduate UC students is 22%. Among UCs, take-up is highest at UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis, and across CCC regions, take-up is highest at campuses located in the Central Valley.

4. The report shows that housing status is a key component of student CalFresh eligibility, because eligibility is based on the total incomes of people living and preparing meals together. A greater share of UC undergraduate students are eligible for CalFresh because more CCC students live with their parents. Another contributing factor to the UC-CCC difference is the Cal Grant college scholarship. The version of the Cal Grant given to UC students qualifies many of them for CalFresh eligibility, but the version given to CCC students does not.

Additional background
To conduct this research, the California Policy Lab (CPL) partnered with the California Community College (CCC) Chancellor’s Office, the University of California Office of the President (UCOP), the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), and the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) to build the first-ever linked database of student-level administrative data on college enrollment, financial aid, and CalFresh participation.

Three previously published data points provide statistics about CalFresh participation among California college students during Academic Year 2019-20 and 2020-21 and 2021-22.

Suggested citation: Rothstein, J., Lacoe, J., Ayers, S., Palos Castellanos, K., Dizon-Ross, E., Doherty, A., Henderson, J., Hogg, J., Hoover, S., Perez, A., Weng, J. (2024). Filling the Gap: CalFresh Eligibility Among University of California and California Community College Students. California Policy Lab.

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