I Was a Higher Ed Case Manager: What I Wish I Knew Then About Helping Students

By: Stephanie Baker, Senior Manager of Higher Education

Before coming to BDT, I spent my career working in higher education case management – helping students address barriers in their academic journeys with the ultimate goal of supporting their wellbeing and enabling them to stay enrolled in school.  I connected my students to all kinds of campus resources, including food pantries and emergency aid programs.   But I knew little about public benefit programs.  Truthfully, I barely understood that students could qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or other public benefits.  Early in my career, I heard misperceptions that students were unilaterally ineligible for SNAP and didn’t know to question that further.  I spent my days creatively problem solving how to get students’ needs met, often amid limited local resources and high caseloads that left me less time than I’d like to support each individual student I met.  I never had quite enough resources to offer to my students despite the obstacles I knew they were facing. 

That’s why the opportunity to help BDT develop strategies in the higher ed space to connect students with public benefits was so appealing to me. I realized I had been operating under the wrong assumption regarding college students and SNAP eligibility – and I knew I was not alone in that. 

Many college students weren’t applying for SNAP simply because they didn’t know they could be eligible or didn’t know about SNAP.

Stephanie Baker
Senior Manager of Higher Education

The truth is, an estimated 57% of eligible students are not enrolled in SNAP even while students face higher rates of food insecurity than the general population.  I wanted to figure out what we could change to help students more easily access the financial support they deserve.   

In the fall of 2022, along with Education Northwest, we undertook an evaluation to learn more about the barriers to and facilitators of SNAP access for college students.  Working with our wonderful partners at the Community College of Allegheny County and Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, we wanted to understand what might be preventing eligible students from enrolling in SNAP. 

Education Northwest surveyed students at both campuses and found that 45% of survey respondents who had never applied for SNAP cited “I don’t know if I’m eligible” as a reason for not applying, and 35% indicated “I don’t know about it [SNAP].”  In other words, many college students weren’t applying for SNAP simply because they didn’t know they could be eligible or didn’t know about SNAP.    

Connecting College Students to Public Benefits
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In an interview with Education Northwest, one student said: “It would be great if our school reached out to us and they told us, hey, since you already qualified for this [financial aid], you more than likely qualify for a SNAP program as well.”  

I couldn’t agree more, and I’m so excited to launch our Benefits Access for Student Success: Learning Collaborative, which will help colleges be able to do exactly what this student described.  Together, BDT and selected colleges and universities will implement outreach to students who are likely eligible for SNAP and other public benefit programs, based on what the institutions can tell from financial aid and other data they already hold.   

To the college staff who already help students with SNAP applications but know you have more students on campus to reach: this program is for you. Or if you are like me a few years ago, wanting to understand which of your students should be pointed to a SNAP application: this program is designed for you.   

Applications are open to colleges and universities in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina until April 1, 2024. Learn more and apply here.  

Institutions or system offices in other states can reach out to highered@bdtrust.org to explore opportunities for partnership.