Much of the stress that college students experience can be attributed to money, according to the Young Americans and College Survey.1
When asked about stressors in college, Generation Z and young millennials said most stress was due to financial worries, namely tuition and living expenses, the economy and job market and student loan debt.
Additionally, The State of the Student2 reports that:
- 67 percent cannot easily afford housing
- 34 percent cannot easily afford food
- 73 percent have to work to make ends meet
Of course, it is not surprising that students are stressed about finances. Money Matters on Campus found that a third of college students already have over $1,000 in credit card debt and 60 percent will take out a student loan. Despite these numbers, only about one third of surveyed students said they planned to increase good financial behaviors such as balancing their checkbook or saving money for an emergency fund.
Unfortunately, financial stress takes a toll on student health, and this, in turn, takes a toll on educational institutions.
The Effects of Financial Stress on Student Health
Financial stress has a direct effect on the physical and mental health of students. Students dealing with stress often employ unhealthy coping strategies that erode physical and mental health even further.
It is not uncommon for stressed students to have sleep problems and fatigue, stomach upset, headaches, and even chest pains. Such symptoms of stress can lead to an early onset of illnesses and diseases such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Plus, those struggling with financial issues often forgo health treatment in order to reduce expenses. Although campus health clinics can alleviate this problem to some degree, students with medical issues needing care beyond campus resources may choose to wait for care.
The National College Health Assessment has found that college students are feeling hopeless (55.9 percent), overwhelmed (87.4 percent), mentally exhausted (84.7 percent), sad (70.8 percent), very depressed (45.1 percent) and anxious (65.7 percent).3 Financial worries came in second only to academics as the cited source of these struggles.
The same study found that college students are likely to participate in poor coping behaviors when stressed, such as smoking, drinking, drugs, poor eating and sleeping more than needful. Unfortunately, these practices often lead to poor mental and physical health.
Gen Z (those aged 5 to 25 in 2020), have even more stress than millennials. The APA Stress in America survey found that 91 percent of Gen Z adults experienced stress symptoms such as depression or lack of energy.4 This stress stemmed from such events as debt (33 percent), housing insecurity (31 percent), and food insecurity (28 percent).
These issues do not stay within the confines of the dorm. As the National College Health Assessment found, 34.2 percent of students feel that stress caused them to receive lower grades on tests, projects, and courses or caused them to have to drop a course.
Students Need a Holistic Intervention to Stress
One way to help students is to take a holistic perspective, providing education and help in areas of physical, mental and financial health.
Students would like to see their institutions offering such things as:
- Free mental health screenings
- Support groups
- Help understanding financial aid and student loans
- Education on budgeting and saving
- Information concerning low-budget food and housing options
- Mindfulness training
- Orientation sessions on student health and lifestyle topics
In general, educational institutions should focus on more than one aspect of a student’s well-being. To truly be holistic, all student stressors should be addressed.
Student Financial Wellness Programs Can Help
Adding a financial component to a university’s wellness offerings will help students manage their financial issues so they can reduce stress and feel more secure about their future. For instance, financial wellness can teach students about debt and how to keep debt from taking over their budget. Without debt, students will be more able to build a stronger financial future and create strong financial habits.
Students with access to financial wellness programs also learn to:
- Develop and stick to a budget
- Get financial coaching
- Understand financial aid and student loans
- Make decisions about whether to take out a student loan and what size student loan makes sense
- Learn new financial habits
- Save for emergencies
- Understand credit cards
By offering financial wellness to your students, educational institutions show they care about more than grades. Each student will feel cared about and become more committed to and better able to complete their degree.