Financial stress is a growing concern for students in colleges and universities. As the cost of tuition, books, and living expenses continue to rise, more students are struggling to make ends meet. 

However, the struggle among students is not equal. As financial aid directors, it's crucial to understand which of your students are suffering the most from financial stress and how to help them.

In this article, we'll dive into the statistics and demographics behind financial stress and offer actionable steps to support these students.

The Importance of Addressing Financial Stress Among College Students

Financial stress can have significant consequences on a student's academic performance and overall well-being. 

A survey conducted by the National Financial Educators Council (NFEC) found that nearly 60% of college students reported financial stress had negatively impacted their academic performance.1 

A study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison also discovered that students experiencing financial stress were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.2 

Addressing financial stress in college is essential, not only for your students' mental health but also for their academic success and future financial stability.

Who's At Risk?

Identifying the most at-risk populations can help financial aid directors better target their resources and support. Research indicates that the following groups of students are more likely to experience financial stress3:

  • First-generation college students: These students, who are the first in their families to attend college, often face unique challenges in navigating the financial aspects of higher education.
  • Low-income students: Students from low-income backgrounds may struggle to cover the costs of tuition, housing, and other necessities even with financial aid.
  • Minority students: Racial and ethnic minority students may face additional financial challenges due to existing wealth disparities and systemic barriers to access.
  • Non-traditional students: Older students, part-time students, and those with dependents may have additional financial responsibilities that add to their stress.

Why Are These Demographics at Risk?

In order to better address the financial stress faced by college students, it's crucial to understand why certain demographics are more at risk than others. 

Let's dive deeper into the factors that contribute to financial stress for these specific groups.

First-Generation College Students

First-generation students often lack guidance and support from family members who have gone through the college experience themselves. 

They may face challenges in navigating the financial aid process, understanding loan terms, and managing their personal finances. Additionally, first-generation students may feel pressure to support their families financially, further worsening their stress.

Low-Income Students

Students from low-income backgrounds often face financial stress due to the high cost of tuition, housing, and other college expenses. 

Even with financial aid, these students may struggle to cover all their expenses – leading to increased debt and a higher likelihood of working long hours in addition to their studies. This can negatively impact their academic performance and overall well-being.

Minority Students

Racial and ethnic minority students often face additional financial challenges due to systemic issues like income inequality and limited access to financial resources. 

These students may be more likely to take on loans to cover their education expenses, leading to higher debt and long-term financial stress. Additionally, minority students may face cultural pressures and expectations that further exacerbate their financial stress.

Non-Traditional Students

Older students, part-time students, and those with dependents often have additional financial responsibilities that add to their stress. They may be balancing the costs of college with the expenses of raising a family or managing a household. 

Non-traditional students may also have a more challenging time accessing financial aid and scholarships, as many programs are designed specifically for traditional students.

Understanding the factors that contribute to financial stress for these at-risk demographics allows financial aid directors to better tailor their support and resources to meet the unique needs of these students. 

Identifying the Signs of Financial Stress

Money can be a touchy subject, and many students may be hesitant to openly discuss their financial struggles. Your ability to recognize the signs of financial stress among your students is essential in offering timely and targeted support. 

Let’s look at some of the subtle yet telling indicators that can help you uncover the hidden financial challenges students may be facing.4

  • Reduced academic performance: Students struggling with financial stress may have difficulty concentrating on their studies, leading to lower grades.
  • Social isolation: Financial stress can lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment, causing students to withdraw from social activities.
  • Mental health issues: Anxiety and depression are common among students experiencing financial stress.
  • Requests for financial assistance: If students are consistently requesting additional financial aid, it may be a sign that they are struggling to manage their finances.

How to Help Students Manage Financial Stress

Now that you know what to look for, let’s explore practical and empowering strategies that you can implement to help students confidently conquer their financial stress and help them pave the way to a more secure and successful future.

  1. Provide financial education resources: Offer workshops, seminars, or online courses that teach students how to budget, manage debt, and save money. The more informed they are about their finances, the less stressed they'll be.
  2. Enhance financial aid packages: Review your financial aid offerings and consider ways to provide additional support to those who need it most, such as increasing grants, offering work-study opportunities, or providing emergency funds.
  3. Create a supportive campus environment: Encourage faculty and staff to be understanding of students' financial struggles, and work together to create a culture of empathy and support.
  4. Offer counseling services: Ensure that mental health resources are readily available to students experiencing financial stress and that they are aware of these services.

Set Your Students up for Success

Understanding the demographics and signs of financial stress among college students is critical to providing effective support. By offering financial education resources, enhancing financial aid packages, and fostering a supportive campus environment, financial aid directors can take steps in the right direction.

One effective way to address financial stress is by implementing a financial wellness program like iGrad. 

iGrad is a customizable platform designed to help colleges and universities support students' financial well-being. With a wide array of tools, resources, and educational materials, iGrad empowers students to make informed financial decisions and develop healthy financial habits.

Incorporating iGrad into your institution's financial wellness plan can significantly enhance the support you offer to students, helping them navigate the complexities of personal finance and reduce their financial stress. 

By prioritizing financial wellness, colleges, and universities can not only improve the academic success and mental health of their students but also set them up for long-term financial stability and independence.



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