Study examines food insecurity in California’s higher education system

Photo of someone collecting food at the UC Berkeley Food Pantry
Caroline Lobel/Staff
A study conducted by the California Policy Lab found that in the 2019-20 academic year, 11.8% of UC system undergraduates used the CalFresh program. The authors of the study hope the baseline data will help the university better understand CalFresh participation trends.

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The California Policy Lab, or CPL, released a study quantifying the number of CalFresh participants in California’s higher education system Feb. 23.

The study found that in the 2019-20 academic year, 11.8% of the UC system’s undergraduate students and 4% of the UC system’s graduate students were enrolled in CalFresh and receiving food assistance.

“Providing the baseline CalFresh participation measures that we have in our report is a useful starting point to inform the types of strategies our partners might want to pilot,” said CPL postdoctoral scholar Elise Dizon-Ross in an email.

Before the study, the number of students participating in CalFresh was unclear, campus professor and study co-author Jesse Rothstein said in a press release. Partnering with CPL, he said, will allow schools to understand participation trends in CalFresh and allow for the development of additional strategies to make resources more accessible.

Layoffs and instability brought by the pandemic and the flexibility of eligibility, coupled with the increased amount of benefits provided by CalFresh, may have expanded the number of participants in the program, Dizon-Ross noted.

Additional legislation has been established to expand eligibility of students to access the benefits, and colleges have been increasing their efforts to address food insecurity among their students, Dizon-Ross said in the email.

“While the perceptions may feel as though food insecurity among college students is increasing, the unfortunate reality is that it has been there all along,” said Genie Kim, the UC system’s director of student mental health and well-being.

In 2019, the university received ongoing funding to establish basic need services for students in need of support, Kim said. She added that awareness on the topic of food insecurity has also allowed students to reach out to the services and support offered.

Campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff said in an email that students experiencing food insecurity should contact the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office and campus’s Food Pantry to access emergency support.

“The well-being of our students is important, and we in Student Affairs want to make sure students know there are resources available year-round,” Ratliff said in the email. “We want to make sure our students can access food and feel supported.”

Lauren Cho is a student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected].