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IES Grant

Title: Using Colorado Longitudinal Data to Address Food Insecurity and Support Equity in Postsecondary Education and Training
Center: NCER Year: 2023
Principal Investigator: Daugherty, Lindsay Awardee: RAND Corporation
Program: Using Longitudinal Data to Support State Education Policymaking      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (07/01/2023 – 06/30/2026) Award Amount: $999,469
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305S230002

Co-Principal Investigators: Vente, Michael; Kret, Jennifer

Partner Institutions: Colorado Department of Higher Education, Colorado Department of Human Services

Purpose: This project will inform Colorado's efforts to increase college attainment by supporting students' needs for food and related human services. Many college students struggle with food insecurity, and evidence increasingly suggests that food insecurity can act as a barrier to postsecondary success. Colorado state agencies and postsecondary institutions are looking for ways to expand student participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to ensure that students receive nutritional support and to advance equity in postsecondary education.

Using data from Colorado's SLDS, researchers will conduct four studies to inform Colorado's decision making:

  • A quantitative description of current and historical rates of SNAP eligibility and participation among college students and variation in SNAP participation across institutions and student characteristics
  • A quantitative analysis of the relationships between SNAP participation and student academic outcomes, using quasi-experimental methods to compare academic outcomes for SNAP participants to SNAP-eligible non-participants
  • A quantitative simulation of how SNAP participation and student outcomes might change under four different approaches to expanding SNAP participation
  • A mixed methods description of the ways in which postsecondary institutions are implementing basic needs services to increase SNAP participation and an exploration of which practices are associated with high rates of SNAP take-up among eligible students

Products: Interim products include regular stakeholder engagement meetings, annual webinars, conference presentations, an interim report, and a workshop. Final products include a RAND report, research briefs, journal articles, and a policy article. Data documentation will also be created.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This research takes place at public colleges and universities in the state of Colorado.

Sample: The sample for the descriptive and quasi-experimental analyses will include all students enrolled in Colorado public postsecondary institutions between academic year 2014–15 and 2023–24 who completed a Federal Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA), including first-time and returning students. All public community colleges and universities will participate in an implementation survey, and the 6 to 8 institutions with the highest rates of SNAP take-up will be selected for interviews.

Key Issue, Program, or Policy: More than one-third of college students report food insecurity. The SNAP program offers a way to deliver nutritional assistance to individuals. Many low-income students are not eligible for SNAP benefits because students must meet additional eligibility requirements that do not apply to other low-income applicants. In addition, fewer than half of eligible students participate, with the complexity of eligibility rules and application processes contributing to low rates of participation. Expanding access to and eligibility for SNAP benefits may increase student capacity for persisting in postsecondary education. Colorado state agencies and postsecondary institutions are making significant investments in SNAP outreach and support efforts and need more evidence on current SNAP participation, levers for expanding participation, and academic outcomes to guide that work.

Research Design and Methods: The researchers will conduct descriptive analyses of SNAP eligibility and participation and examine differences for the lowest income students and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. To examine the relationship between SNAP and academic outcomes, the researchers will use a propensity score weighting approach to compare SNAP-participating students to similar SNAP-eligible students who did not participate. To examine the impacts of federal changes to SNAP eligibility requirements during COVID, they will use a difference-in-differences approach to compare individuals who became SNAP-eligible because of the federal expansion to individuals eligible regardless of the expansion. To examine the effects of college basic needs services on SNAP participation and academic outcomes, they will use a difference-in-differences approach to compare outcomes for students at institutions with and without basic needs centers. To simulate how SNAP participation could increase as the result of future policy changes, they will construct models based on historical data. To describe implementation, they will survey basic needs services staff at all public Colorado institutions and follow up with interviews of administrators at institutions with high rates of SNAP take-up.

Control Condition: The control condition in the quasi-experimental analysis of SNAP participation will include students eligible for SNAP who did not participate in the program.

Key Measures: The primary academic outcomes of interest are persistence, credit accumulation, and completion. The intervention measures are SNAP eligibility, application, and participation. The researchers will use measures and proxy measures from Colorado's postsecondary database to estimate SNAP eligibility and observe applications and participation directly in state administrative SNAP data. They will employ moderators including income, race/ethnicity, gender, level of enrollment (full-time/part-time), and work study participation. Institution-level measures of implementation will include institutional SNAP support efforts (such as one-stop basic needs support centers), support from external providers (such as hours of on-site support provided by Colorado Department of Human Services partners), and quality of basic needs services according to the Basic Needs Services Implementation Rubric developed by Education Northwest.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will produce descriptive statistics on SNAP eligibility and participation over time and assess the statistical significance of variation by student and school characteristics using t-tests, chi-squared tests, and regression analysis. The researchers' quasi-experimental approach to examining relationships between SNAP participation and student outcomes will estimate propensity scores for eligible non-participants using generalized boosted modeling. These models will include an array of student characteristics (gender, race/ethnicity, age, income, etc.), institution characteristics (institution type, region, etc.), and cohort indicators. The researchers will use the inverse of these propensity scores to weight multivariate regression models for each outcome and will include as covariates all factors influencing the weights. Difference-in-difference models used to explore implications of COVID-era federal eligibility will include vectors of student- and institution-level covariates as well as time fixed effects, and those used to examine the effects of institutions introducing basic needs centers at different times will leverage an event study specification. Simulations of how policy changes could affect SNAP participation will be developed through expert consultation and will include analyses of possible state changes to work study populations and SNAP Education and Training-equivalent program lists. The researchers will assess implementation descriptively through analyses of survey data and other program data, a scan of relevant documents, and hybrid grounded-theory analysis of interview data. They will also analyze relationships between measures of SNAP support implementation and SNAP participation through multivariate regression analysis.

State Decision Making: The Colorado Department of Higher Education, the Colorado Department of Human Services, postsecondary institutions, and SNAP support partners will use findings to

  • More effectively target SNAP outreach and application support efforts and increase participation rates among eligible students
  • Determine whether and how to expand the state's eligible training provider list
  • Improve and inform the state's investments in the SNAP outreach and support for college students

Related IES Projects: Longitudinal Education Data Access Plan (R372A070008), Project SchoolView envisions a flexible enterprise P-20 information and knowledge management system (R384A100029), Connecting Community College Students to Public and Community Resources: An Experimental Evaluation of Single Stop (R305A200101), Colorado RISE (Relevant Information to Strengthen Education) Continuation (R372A200034)