A recent online issue of University Business dealt with the topic on stress on college students. From my days in college, the only stress I remember is social stress and the stress of fitting in but that isn’t the stress being talked today. Today’s stress is financial stress and it is clearly manifesting itself on today’s generation of students.
University Business summarizes a study completed by Inceptia which presents the following “key findings:”
One third of respondents said financial stressors have had a negative impact on their academic performance or progress.
Seventy-four percent of respondents are working during the academic year and 15 percent are working full-time.
Students who work more than 20 hours per week during the academic year are significantly more likely to report that financial stress has had a negative impact on their academic progress or performance and that they reduced their academic course load due to this stress.
None of these results are surprising; many students have always had to work while in college and a constrained economy inevitably results in this number rising. And the more hours that students need to work the more the stress level is enhanced. Not measured in this study is the fact that the financial strain and the hours worked can diminish the higher education experience in very tangible ways. Every year, I am sure we all hear about students who can’t accept internships (which are often unpaid) because they are dependent on the income earned through working part-time. Every year, I am sure we all hear about students who can’t take advantage of a study abroad experience because there are both extra costs and forgone income involved in taking advantage of such an opportunity. And every year, there are many students who can’t participate in co-curricular activities because the time involved reduces their ability to work. If the average full-time student is working more than 20 hours per week, something has to give.
The impact of financial stress is even more profound than the ramifications noted above. More students and their families are opting for lower priced higher education alternatives. These alternatives involve less personalized education, impacting everything from class size to advisement/counseling services to co-curricular activities. Many students can still do well in such an environment; others struggle and/or do not maximize their potential.
What can we do to help? Certainly government, both at the state level and the federal level, should continue to view higher education as a necessary and worthwhile investment in the economic success of our country. To compete in a global economy requires a sophisticated skill set; it can’t happen without a highly educated work force. And all of us should remember that a more sophisticated work force will likely earn more and pay more in taxes. But we in higher education can also do more to ameliorate the stress level. There should be more fundraising for scholarships that allow students to undertake unpaid internships or participate in study abroad opportunities. Co-curricular activities should be scheduled in such a way that even working students have opportunities to participate. We have known for a long time that the benefits of higher education accrue to society as well as to individuals and, more than ever, we should be guided by that reality today.
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