Almost half of U.S. community college students responding to the #RealCollege survey conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice indicated that they had experienced food insecurity within the previous 30 days (Goldrick-Rab et al., 2019). To help community colleges reduce food insecurity for students and their families in sustainable ways that foster student retention, persistence, and success, the League for Innovation in the Community College (League) launched its “Innovative Solutions for Hunger Relief and Student Success” initiative in fall 2019.

With support from the Walmart Foundation, the League is working with two community colleges serving rural, economically distressed areas to develop effective, innovative models for hunger relief and healthy eating that can be adopted or adapted by community colleges and other institutions.

In January and February of 2020, staff, students, and community members at Northeast Texas Community College (NTCC) and West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKCTC) began training in Innovation Engineering (IE), a proven systems approach to innovation developed by Eureka! Ranch. Trainers and coaches from Eureka! Ranch are using IE’s Jump Start Your Brain portal to work with the colleges’ project teams to identify and develop innovative solutions for hunger relief and healthy eating.

Last spring, progress was slowed by the pandemic, as the colleges worked to move their operations online and the League and Eureka! Ranch transitioned a largely face-to-face project to a virtual format. By midsummer, the college teams were again able to focus on the project, and food insecurity issues were at the forefront as never before. In fall 2020, teams began in earnest to develop and test projects and potential solutions.

At NTCC, the team, guided by IE experts at Eureka! Ranch, is developing the EatBetter4Less program, which includes online training videos on nutritious, low-cost meal planning and preparation, with the option for students and other community members to earn badges as they develop life skills around healthy eating. In collaboration with college and community food pantries, they are promoting the EatBetter4Less program and badges through food and snack kits distributed to students on campus and at community food pantries. The food kits include recipe cards with instructions on creating tasty, nutritious family meals using the food items in the kit.

The WKCTC team is focused on identifying and eliminating friction points that hinder student access to hunger relief resources. The team is creating a detailed playbook to share with other colleges on what worked, what didn’t work, and why, as they carefully catalog details of the projects they test. The college is leveraging its holistic advising model to meet with students not only to discuss their educational needs, but also to connect them with college and community hunger relief and other academic and social service resources. WKCTC tested its first project in November, using grocery store gift cards to incentivize students to make and keep virtual and/or socially distanced advising appointments. The college also held a Students Speak event which included community organization representatives providing information on services students and their families can access. As part of the IE process, all aspects of these and other activities are evaluated, and revisions are made based on the findings.

At both colleges and in the overall project, we are looking at food insecurity not in isolation, but in the context of a larger ecosystem and ways it can better support the basic needs of its population. Learn more about the project and the progress participating colleges are making on the Innovative Solutions for Hunger Relief and Student Success page. We also invite you to share your college’s innovative solutions for hunger relief and healthy eating; click here for more information.


Goldrick-Rab, S., Baker-Smith, C., Coca, V., Looker, E., & and Williams, T. (2019). College and university basic needs insecurity: A national #RealCollege survey report.


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