Benefits Data Trust Shares New Resource to Help Colleges Improve Student Access to More than $3 Billion in Untapped Aid

New toolkit guides college administrators in how to identify students eligible for public benefit programs; Maryland community colleges using toolkit to connect students to assistance

PHILADELPHIA, Pa.– Benefits Data Trust (BDT) today released a toolkit to help colleges identify students who are eligible for untapped public benefits that can help them persist and succeed in college by paying for food, healthcare, internet service and other necessary expenses. The new resource, “Benefits Access for Student Success: A Toolkit for Leveraging Data to Find Eligible Students,” was first announced during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in September, part of new private sector commitments made nationally to end hunger and reduce diet-related disease by 2030.

National research studies conducted by The Hope Center and the Center for Community College Student Engagement found that over one-third of students struggle to pay for food and housing while attending college, with rates disproportionately higher for students of color and indigenous and LGBTQ+ students. Federal benefit programs can help students cover these expenses, yet they remain underutilized.

The new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is poised to help more than 6 million Pell Grant recipients pay for high-speed internet service, yet as of January 2023, only an estimated 650,000 Pell Grant recipients have enrolled in the program. Similarly, nearly 2 million students who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) do not participate, leaving an estimated $3 billion in benefits unused. Multiple barriers – lack of awareness, confusing eligibility requirements, and complicated application processes – keep available financial resources from reaching students.  

College administrators hold data that correspond with eligibility for several benefit programs. In January 2022, the Department of Education encouraged institutions to use Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data to inform students of benefit programs they may be eligible for, but many institutions struggle to navigate the complexities of benefits eligibility. 

“Streamlining access to public benefits can deliver hundreds of dollars each month to students, helping them stay in school and graduate,” said Pauline Abernathy, Chief Strategy Officer, Benefits Data Trust. “Using this toolkit, colleges can leverage data they already have to connect students to untapped benefits that can increase student achievement, persistence and graduation rates.”   

BDT’s toolkit is designed to help higher education institutions identify and inform students who are likely eligible for programs, such as SNAP, ACP, Medicaid, the Child Tax Credit, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The toolkit is the first in a series of resources aimed at helping colleges notify students about their eligibility and provide information about how to apply. 

In an effort supported by Share Our Strength, four community colleges in Maryland are working with BDT to conduct data-driven outreach to students likely eligible for SNAP and other programs. This winter, Carroll Community College, Chesapeake College, College of Southern Maryland, and Wor-Wic Community College are sending text messages to approximately 8,000 students, inviting them to call the Maryland Benefits Center, where BDT staff help people confirm their eligibility for multiple benefits and submit applications on their behalf.  

“Our students come from a wide range of income levels, so the ability to identify who is actually eligible for public benefits will help us reach out to those students more effectively,” said Kristie L. Crumley, Associate Provost of Student Affairs and Marketing at Carroll Community College. “To support student retention and degree completion, we’re using BDT’s toolkit to take a much more proactive approach to connecting students to a streamlined process to get the benefits that they deserve. These benefits can make a huge difference in a student’s life and their ability to stay enrolled in college.” 

BDT is a national nonprofit with nearly 20 years of experience harnessing the power of data, technology, and policy to provide efficient and dignified access to assistance, improving people's health and financial security.   

Made possible with funding from Comcast NBCUniversal, the toolkit development was guided by the feedback of a volunteer advisory committee of national and institutional leaders in student access, including experts from Ascend at the Aspen Institute; California State University, Long Beach; City University of New York (CUNY); Colorado State University; Community College of Allegheny County; Cuyahoga Community College; Higher Learning Advocates; Institute for Higher Education Policy; Michigan Community College Association; NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education; and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The toolkit, available to download for free here, includes eight practical tools designed for college administrators to use on their own or with support from BDT. Read this fact sheet to learn more about BDT’s strategies to increase student access to public benefits. 


About Benefits Data Trust
Benefits Data Trust (BDT) improves health and financial security by harnessing the power of data, technology, and policy to provide dignified and equitable access to assistance. Together with a national network of government agencies and partners, we efficiently connect people today to programs that pay for food, healthcare, and more while helping to modernize benefits access for tomorrow. A nonprofit since 2005, BDT has secured more than $10 billion in benefits for households across the country, helping to reduce hunger and poverty and build pathways to economic mobility. Learn more at