Thousands of college students might qualify for food stamps but don’t use the program

(U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Roughly half of the students in college in Virginia in 2017 qualified for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, though many didn’t use the program, according to newly released data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

SCHEV used information from financial aid paperwork and statistics from the Department of Social Services to estimate how many college students use SNAP benefits, or food stamps, and how many potentially qualify for the assistance.

In Virginia, one person must make less than $16,237 annually to qualify for SNAP. A family of four must make less than $33,475 a year to qualify.

In 2017, 93,618 students enrolled in a college in the state could have potentially accessed SNAP benefits.

“The council has established a statewide goal to become the best educated in the nation,” said Tod Massa, director of the multi-agency Virginia Longitudinal Data System. “That will likely only be achieved if we support the students we have and the students we know are coming that are less traditional. We have a lot of students whose basic needs are simply not being met.”

Students who qualify for SNAP may opt not to take advantage of the program because of on-campus dining options, Massa said. For example: At Virginia Military Institute, where 101 students in 2017 qualified for the program, students march to meals.

In the 2015-16 academic year, the most recent year available, 2,830 students in four-year colleges used SNAP benefits. It was 1.7% of total enrollment.

Among all institutions of higher education – which includes community colleges and private institutions- 16,700 used SNAP in 2015-2016. It was 3.8% of total enrolled students.

The state’s community colleges, made up the largest portion of that, with 12,300 community college students receiving SNAP benefits.

Of those, 2,450 attended Tidewater Community College.

Old Dominion University had the most students (691) receiving SNAP benefits of public four-year institutions and Liberty University had the most students using the program out of private institutions (765).