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Many college students are stressed about finances -- but none more so than American students, according to the results of a new report by Sodexo.
The lifestyle survey, which Sodexo has administered since 2004, functioned as a marketing tool for the company to learn the habits and thinking of the demographics it serves -- colleges and their students. Sodexo has started expanding its reach beyond food services and advised colleges other aspects of operations, such as parking or student affairs-related matters, said Patrick Connolly, its chief executive officer of global schools and universities.
Sodexo used to only survey students in the United Kingdom but this year queried more than 4,000 students in Britain and the United States, as well as China, India, Italy and Spain. About 53 percent of the students were men and 47 percent were women. A little more than half of the students surveyed came from the U.S. and Britain, with more than 1,000 each included in the sample.
Compared to students attending college in the other nations, those in the United States worried more about paying for their degree and dropping out because of financial concerns.
More than a third of all the students interviewed indicated they attended college on a scholarship, and of those, half said they couldn’t have afforded it without that break. That percentage was even higher for students in the United States -- 58 percent.
Chinese students were the most likely to afford a university without a scholarship -- 81 percent of the 500 or so students interviewed.
Students in both Europe and the U.S. -- about a third of both groups -- considered dropping out.
But that percentage dropped significantly with students in China, to about 5 percent of respondents, likely because of the difficulty of earning a spot at a Chinese college. Chinese students prior to college must test and earn a placement, and the top Chinese institutions accept a small share of applicants, meaning students would likely be more reluctant to drop out after working so hard to win a place.
Connolly asked if other countries could learn from one another about how to reduce stress on students. Generally, Indian students’ stress level was much lower than that of students from other surveyed countries, Connolly said. He said that some aspects of collegiate life depending on the local culture, but also that this report could help inform university presidents’ strategies.
“Every university president you go to talk to right now talks about their move globally, or how many students they’re trying to bring here and places where they’re trying to set up businesses as well,” Connolly said. “And if they don’t understand the customer …”
Pinpointing exactly how to remedy students’ financial woes will require additional studies, Connolly said. He views the survey as a first step to identifying the causes of stress on students’ purse strings and said he had not developed concrete ideas on that front yet.
Another finding in the survey, based on students at four-year colleges, was how much students prioritized the atmosphere and first impression of an institution over its reputation or academic standing -- 43 percent of U.S. students base their decision where to attend based largely on that initial campus tour and the environment.
About 83 percent of students globally think that a “friendly feel” to a campus is more important than the university’s status.
“Institutions of higher education can take advantage of this by being very prescriptive about the look and feel of their campus,” Rob Hailey, the senior associate vice president of university services at Tulane University, wrote in the report’s introduction. “Are the grounds meticulously maintained? Are maintenance issues addressed swiftly? Are the common areas spotless?”
Focusing on these aspects of a university may seem superficial, but they give institutions a competitive edge over their neighbors both locally and across the country, Connolly said -- and they’re important. He said a simple but significant change would be the assurance that students could locate another printer on campus if the one they were using broke, for instance.
“You first want to invest in what’s the issue and figure out how you impact that issue, and it can be really little things,” he said.