In a single year, 31.8% of undergraduate students accept federal loans, with the average student facing $37,787 of student debt when they graduate. Not only are students taking out loans to get through college, but they’re taking out credit cards, accruing medical bills, and battling additional social determinants of health such as food insecurity and housing instability.
Financial strain is causing high levels of stress and anxiety – and preventing many students from graduating on time, if at all.
To prevent student dropouts and protect the mental health of students who are struggling to maintain a budget, cope with financial stressors, and manage stress levels, colleges and universities need to offer more mental health interventions, specifically ones that target financial stress, support money management skills, and fit into the schedule of students who are part- or full-time workers.
Why Students Struggle Financially
One study of more than 3,000 adults ages 20-34 found that 42% dropped out of higher education due to financial reasons.
Prior to the pandemic, 36% of 43,000 college students were facing food and housing insecurity, a number that has continued to rise and is bound to increase as we face an economic recession. Not only are many students paying high rent and living costs, but some are experiencing homelessness and sleeping in cars rather than dorms or apartments.
The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University conducted the #RealCollege Survey from 2015-2021 of over 500,000 students and found that three in five students experienced basic needs insecurity – and 35% experienced at least moderate anxiety.
Tuition continues to rise, year after year, forcing many students to take out loans, work part-time, or forgo college to undergo trade school, take a job, or choose an alternative path such as military or entrepreneurship. Among the students who take out student loans, 54% have admitted to experiencing a mental health problem related to this debt.
For these reasons, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for higher education institutions to increase their enrollment numbers and retain students, many of whom are under significant distress and in need of more comprehensive mental health support.
How to Support Financially-Stressed Students
A recent BestColleges survey reveals that 44% of students have considered leaving their college or university because of the financial burdens, even while 45% of students anticipate that some of their student loans will be forgiven by the government.
These financially-stressed students need more mental health solutions to handle the stress, anxiety, and isolation that comes with college life. Here’s what colleges and universities can do today to better support students in financial distress:
- Create opportunities for social connection and inclusion. Having a social support system is invaluable for students, especially international students and students living away from family and friends. Hosting free events on campus or virtually that encourage students to meet and mingle, conducting school-wide surveys to understand students needs, and building safe spaces on campus can help students connect with others.
- Offer free financial literacy courses. Financial budgeting isn’t often taught in school, but every student could benefit from this, especially those that are working, paying bills, and taking out student loans which will eventually need to be repaid. Other financial literacy courses could focus on debt management or planning for life post-graduation when many students will be on their own financially.
- Offer free mental health workshops. The more resilient the student, the more prepared they are to handle stress. Mental health workshops can teach students how to develop healthy coping mechanisms, how to respond to stress effectively, and how to recognize signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression, or suicidality.
- Expand counseling center hours. Many students don’t have time to visit the counseling center during the traditional 9-5 hours – and can’t afford to visit local community centers. Working with a telehealth provider, colleges and universities can not only extend those hours to nights and weekends, but also offer virtual sessions, which may be conducive to students who are overwhelmed with obligations.
- Invest in psychiatric care. Counseling centers may not offer psychiatric care or may not have enough psychiatric providers available to meet student demand. This prevents some students from seeking care or forces them to go outside of the campus to access local resources, if they’re available, which can be time-consuming, stressful, and costly.
Financial stress shouldn’t prevent students from excelling on campus, but in far too many cases, it does. This can be prevented and addressed, if colleges and universities are willing to allocate funding and resources to overall mental health and well-being.
We, at Mantra Health, want to enhance the college experience and support students in their academic pursuits, which is why we partner with colleges and universities, to bring more accessible, diverse, and evidence-based mental health care to campus.