The Pandemic Is Worsening Students’ Financial Problems. Here’s How Advisors Can Help

Beth Dumbauld

As a student advisor, you are all too familiar with students' financial struggles when it comes to paying for college. You likely find this is especially true for adult learners, who are often juggling work and family responsibilities. The pandemic has made their reality much worse.

Even before COVID-19, money was the biggest stressor for students

According to a student survey conducted by Lendedu.com, 75% of respondents who cite money as the main issue for dropping out do so because they did not want to take on more student loan debt. A national student financial wellness study from The Ohio State University found 70% of college students were stressed about their finances, and 60% of students were worried they didn’t have the money to pay their tuition.

The pandemic has made things worse

Advisors are now working with an even greater number of students who have to make tough decisions about what to prioritize — their college education vs. their or their family’s’ housing, food or medical expenses. Data from The National Bureau of Economic Research found 13% of students are delaying graduation because of Covid-19, while 11% of students are withdrawing from class.

Colleges are feeling the crunch as well. Research from The Chronicle of Higher Education found that two-thirds of institutions have suffered enrollment drops this fall semester.Community colleges have been hit worst of all, with 9 out of 10 schools seeing enrollment declines. Inside Higher Ed recently reported that the largest declines in college enrollment this fall are among adult students, concluding that family responsibilities and Covid-19 related financial pressures are strongly at play.

Financial pressures affect adult learners’ ability to earn a degree

Students rely on their advisors to help them understand both the cost of college and their own financial aid. Adult students who have returned to school after dropping out have unique challenges — many have existing loans coupled with additional financial responsibilities. Adult learners who end up taking fewer classes or drop out altogether, may experience additional strain over how to handle the financial implications of school, which could also delay the completion of their degree program.

In all cases, additional support and guidance from you on how to enroll, persist and pay for school is critical in caring for students who are entering school as an adult.

Timely intervention from a trusted advisor can make all the difference

Here are some steps you can take to help keep students on track:

  • Stay in touch: Ongoing communication is vital if you want to keep students on track. Unfortunately, the nature of the pandemic has made communication more difficult — students may be busy with work and family, or unwilling to discuss uncomfortable topics like financial problems. Not being able to meet face-to-face with an advisor may make a sensitive financial conversation more difficult.
  • Be proactive: The sooner you identify and address the problem, the better chance a student has of staying in school. As soon as you notice a student struggling, taking prompt action and proactively reaching out — either virtually or over the phone — will improve the likelihood of successful intervention and get students back on track.

Students who share living arrangements with roommates or their families may find it difficult to discuss their concerns privately, so scheduling advising time at the student’s convenience could make all the difference.

  • Suggest a lower-cost education alternative: You may consider StraighterLine courses for your students who are at risk for stopping out or not completing coursework due to financial pressures. Straighterline’s “refer and return” program works for students who need an affordable, flexible path to get them back on track, transfer needed credit, and earn their degree from your school.

StraighterLine offers over 60 accredited general education courses that start at $59 plus a $99 monthly membership; all courses are 100% online. Students can access StraighterLine coursework immediately, move at their own pace, and pay as they go. Most students are able to complete a course in 4 to 6 weeks and realize a cost per credit of under $100 per credit hour.

Hundreds of colleges and universities refer their students to StraighterLine each month to help students overcome financial and other challenges and transfer credit to their school.

Students will always face financial pressures, but now more than ever, they are in need of thoughtful guidance on how to overcome financial constraints and earn their degree. StraighterLine can support your students by making it easy for them to finish their courses and simply transfer their credits back to your school.

Learn how you can reduce stress to be at your best to help students succeed. Click here to read Stress Tips for Student Advisors

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