Eliminating hunger, increasing success

By Jeremy Solomon and Liz Cooper

New data show the promise of a scholarship meal program at a Massachusetts community college.

MassBay Community College has released data that demonstrate a positive impact when students who are food insecure are provided access to food through the college’s meal scholarship program. Students who received the scholarship earned higher grade point averages and re-enrolled at a higher rate compared to their peers who applied for but did not receive the food scholarship.

The MassBay Meal Scholarship program launched as a $2,430 pilot program in March 2019, assisting 29 students with meal cards that provide free and healthy options while on campus. Just four semesters later the program has expanded significantly, with 111 students being granted $50,600 in scholarships during the fall 2020 semester. The level of assistance has also increased, from approximately $20 per week at launch to $44 per week in fall 2020 due to the college’s partnership with online grocer Imperfect Foods, which sources surplus food and imperfect produce from farmers and producers and delivering these goods to customers at an affordable price.

GPA, retention rates rise

Data collected in fall 2019 by MassBay show that the average GPA of the 48 scholarship recipients increased from 3.09 to 3.13 after receiving the scholarship. Students who were eligible for a scholarship but did not receive one because of a lack of available funding saw a decrease in their average GPA from 2.90 to 2.53 GPA. More recent data from spring 2020 showed similar results. The 70 students receiving a scholarship maintained their 3.33 average GPA. The GPA of the six students the college was unable to fund dropped from 3.2 to 2.7.

“It stands to reason that if students are hungry, their ability to concentrate in class and to meet the academic demands of their courses will be diminished, and these data confirm it,” said Elizabeth Blumberg, vice president for student development and dean of students. “We are pleased to offer needed funds for our students who suffer from food insecurity, and we are grateful to Imperfect Foods and our other community partners in this worthy effort.”

The data also showed meal scholarship students returned to college in the fall at a higher rate than those who did not receive a scholarship. From spring 2020 to fall 2020, the 70 students who received a scholarship returned to school at a rate 21 percentage points higher than the overall retention rate.

“I can think of no more important nor impactful pursuit than the work being done on our campus to combat food insecurity,” said MassBay President David Podell. “Many of our students are overcoming financial and homelife obstacles, coming to college to forge a better life for themselves and their families. We can all understand how being unable to afford food and going hungry can derail a dream. The Meal Scholarship Program helps alleviate food insecurity for many of our students, enabling them to succeed in the classroom, to complete their studies with us, and to feel pride in their achievements.”

Avoiding stigmas

Critical to the Meal Scholarship Program has been the goal of avoiding the stigma that is often associated with efforts to address food insecurity, such as a food pantry. At MassBay, meal scholarships are typically given to awarded students via a weekly meal card that looks just like a debit card and can be used in the college’s cafeterias. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, when students are attending classes from their homes via the internet, meal scholarship students are receiving weekly deliveries from Imperfect Foods to their homes.

One participating student, Alicia, is grateful for the program. “I am a single mother of three and SNAP assistance helps feed my kids. I was lucky to be part of this scholarship last semester and it helped me be able to eat. I was able to have lunch and not worry about taking anything away from my kids’ food stamps,” she said. “Before this program came along, I would just skip meals so I wouldn’t take away from their food money. While I was hungry, it was hard for me to think straight during classes. I am a huge promoter of this program.”

Food insecurity initiatives are coordinated at MassBay by the Student Nourishment and Care Committee (SNACC), a group of staff, faculty, students, and community volunteers who are dedicated to eliminating basic need barriers that are obstacles to student success.

The MassBay Meal Scholarship Program has been funded through donations from faculty and staff along with private funding, including a $30,000 grant from the Foundation for MetroWest in the summer 2020.

In an appeal to potential donors, MassBay says that for $528, individuals or organizations can sponsor an entire semester of food for a MassBay meal scholarship.

The full article can be read here.

Jeremy Solomon

is interim director of marketing and communications at MassBay Community College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Liz Cooper

is assistant director of marketing and institutional communications at MassBay Community College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.