How can community colleges help students navigate turbulent financial waters?
Did you know that the lack of financial resources is the number one reason community college students do not complete?
Making Ends Meet, a study that surveyed nearly 100,000 community college students, conducted by the Center for Community College Student Engagement, found that nearly half of respondents said finances could force them to withdraw from their schools. Many of those surveyed are living paycheck to paycheck, especially if they have dependent children.
Six in ten reported that they would have difficulty getting $500 in cash or credit to meet an unexpected need. Any additional expenses from a car repair to a broken laptop or a refrigerator creates undue stress that undermines college studies. High levels of financial instability and insecurity, the study emphasized, negatively impact academic performance and success.
The widespread nature of financial insecurity has reduced some of the stigma related to asking for help. With so many of their peers in similar situations, it is not surprising that 9 out of 10 respondents said they needed information about financial assistance. But only a third of the students felt their college provided adequate information that can help them tackle economic challenges needed for them to succeed. This points to a clear call to action.
5 Tips to Help Your Students
Colleges, must, of course, assist students with grants, partnerships and scholarships. But just as important is creating an environment where this information is accessible on many platforms. Additionally, those schools which provide help with child care, food pantries, or transportation, provide students with a real leg-up to overcome the roadblocks to completion. The content should be welcoming, engaging and relevant. What can you do?
1. Guide them to resources for financial aid, scholarships, and work-study programs.
Each year, it is estimated that thousands of students miss out on Pell Grant money because they fail to fill out their FAFSAs (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
Research indicates that 30% of students do not complete the FAFSA. This can amount to thousands of federal student aid money. Without filling out the application, many of these students aren’t even aware of the aid they might have been eligible to receive. Highlight your college’s tuition payment plans and be sure to compare the tuition at your community college with the nearby four-year universities and colleges to emphasize how they can achieve a quality college education without the burden of student loan debt.
2. Break down additional costs.
Students are sometimes surprised by additional fees beyond enrollment. These include the cost of textbooks and other materials, transportation, and potentially reduced income if their class schedule conflicts with their job.
Community colleges can help students make better financial decisions by drawing their attention to these costs early so that they aren’t caught off guard. Students who can plan ahead are more likely to budget accordingly and are less likely to become stressed by unexpected demands.
3. Widely promote your food pantries as welcoming and healthy alternatives.
Food pantries are now the norm in the majority of community colleges. The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice released a new report revealing that of 86,000 respondents across 123 colleges and universities, 48 percent of community college students and 41 percent of four-year university students are food insecure.
If your community college has gone through the trouble of creating this valuable resource for students in need, make sure you also take the extra steps of promoting it. Even students who need it may not use it if they are unaware, or if they feel embarrassed or shy.
4. Highlight any transportation agreements with local public bus services for that provide free rides for your students.
Ventura County’s 50,000 students at select local colleges and universities can ride public buses county-wide for free. Portland Community College promotes and encourages riding public transit and offers cost-saving programs for both students and staff.
Wake Tech has raised the bar for everyone by not only providing students free public transportation but has launched an engaging campaign called No Wheels, No Problem! to get the word out. More community colleges should consider programs such as these, as it makes it more possible for students to enroll and attend classes. With enough of an enrollment and retention boost, these programs can practically pay for themselves.
5. Inform students about your available childcare facilities.
If your community college has daycare or childcare facilities, this can make a huge difference in the life of your students. The number of community college students with dependents has risen over the last several decades. However, according to a 2017 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, this has been met by a decline in the percentage of colleges offering on-campus child care. The same report indicated that, in 2004, 53 percent of community colleges had a child care center; 10 years later, just 44 percent did. Four-year universities report similar numbers.
So, if your college has childcare facilities, promote these services! It can mean a huge payback in the form of college retention.
Increased Retention Directly Effects the Bottom Line
Helping students overcome financial and logistic hurdles has huge benefits—especially minority and lower income students. Lowering barriers for disadvantaged students to improve their education is a noble goal for any institution. But for many community colleges, it’s also the fiscally intelligent move to make.
Students who can’t attend classes due to lack of transport or child care will drop out, as will those who face additional strain from food insecurity or financial concerns. This affects enrollment rate, which in turn leaves colleges with fewer resources to maintain programs.
By investing intelligently in services that help students succeed, community colleges are adding to their own stability as well.