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Student Supports: The Role of Social Safety-Net Programs in College Student Success

two women college students are standing and looking at a notebook in an outdoor college hallway. In the background, two males students are speaking to each other.

This project is examining the extent to which college students access safety-net benefits to help meet their basic needs, and how this affects their educational outcomes.


Across the country, many college students struggle to meet their basic needs while attending school. Public higher education institutions are well-situated to connect students to safety-net benefits, but data limitations have hampered previous efforts to quantify eligibility and take-up. To address this, CPL is partnering with the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC), the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO), the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) and the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) to link anonymized data across these four agencies in order to help get more students the support they need to thrive at college. The Student Supports Project is made possible through support from the Spencer Foundation. This research is also supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A220451 to The Regents of the University of California – Berkeley. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education. This project is also part of the Accelerating Recovery in Community Colleges (ARCC) Network. This research is also supported with funding from the Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics Partnership (RIDGE).

Research Project

Status: ongoing

By bringing data together on college students, CalFresh participants, and FAFSA applicants, CPL and our partner agencies are able to estimate the number of college students who participate in safety-net programs, such as CalFresh (SNAP), and the number of students who are eligible but not using these programs. This research will help shed light on the relationship between participating in safety-net programs and student outcomes, and  will inform efforts to develop, pilot, and test strategies for using administrative data to improve outreach to potentially eligible students.

For more information on the timeline and data used for the Student Supports Project, read the Project Overview.

Research Team

Professor Jesse Rothstein (Principal Investigator), Dr. Johanna Lacoe (Co-Principal Investigator), Dr. Elise Dizon-Ross (Co-Principal Investigator), Nikta Akhavan, Sam Ayers, Karla Palos Castellanos, Huizhi Gong, Jennifer Hogg, Alan Perez, and Justine Weng


Data Points: CalFresh Participation Among California’s College Students: School Year Updates for 2020-21 and 2021-22 (April 2024)

Policy Briefs: Outreach to California College Students Encouraged Them to Apply for CalFresh (August 2022)

Data Point: California Community College and University of California student participation in CalFresh food benefits (Feb 2022)

Policy Brief: Addressing the barriers college students face when accessing CalFresh food benefits (Dec 2021)

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