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Two-year college students in Texas face financial challenges while enrolled, which can have negative effects on their persistence and graduation.

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As the cost of higher education continues to climb, over half (56 percent) of students attending community college in Texas say they worry about being able to pay their current monthly expenses and most (71 percent) had experienced financial difficulties while in college.

The latest Trellis Strategies Student Financial Wellness Survey polled nearly 12,000 students attending Texas Community Colleges in fall 2023 and found personal finances impact many students’ ability to concentrate on schoolwork (48 percent) and that institutional leaders may be unaware of individuals’ challenges.

Just under one-third (31 percent) of students who had experienced financial challenges while enrolled disagreed or strongly disagreed that their school is aware of their financial situation, and 33 percent of students had not spoken with anyone at their institution about their financial struggles.

Over 11,900 students participated in the survey, representing 191,300 students attending Texas Community Colleges. Survey data was collected in fall 2023 and asked students about their spending habits since the start of the calendar year.

Among respondents, 43 percent were first-generation college students, 65 percent were employed, 31 percent were student parents and 2 percent were former foster youth. The average respondent was 26 years old and the largest share of respondents were first-year students—or had earned fewer than 30 credits—(54 percent) and Hispanic or Latino (45 percent).

Personal finances: Across respondents, 64 percent of students said they would have difficulty finding $500 in cash or credit in case of an emergency, 26 percent of respondents said they would be unable to find that money at all. Among those who had used a credit card, 87 percent of respondents said they used it to purchase something they did not have the money for at least once.

Three-quarters (73 percent) of respondents said they had run out of money at least once since the beginning of the year and a quarter (26 percent) had run out of money eight or more times since January 1.

Despite high numbers of students experiencing financial challenges, only 63 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed their school has the support services to help them address their financial situation.

Paying for college: To fund their education, a quarter of respondents use student loans, 29 percent are using a credit card and 48 percent of respondents use their personal savings to pay for college.

One in five students disagreed or strongly disagreed that they know how they will pay for college the next semester, which was less than three months away during the survey collection.

Eight in 10 students had completed the FAFSA in the past 12 months. Among those who didn’t fill out the form, 52 percent said they didn’t think they would be eligible for aid, 19 percent believed they could afford to go to school without financial aid and 19 percent didn’t want the possibility of taking on debt.

Other barriers to student success: Mental health is one of the greatest barriers to community college students’ persistence, with finances a close second, according to recent research. The Trellis survey found one-third of respondents had experienced symptoms of depression in the past two weeks leading up to the survey, and 45 percent had generalized anxiety disorder.

Basic needs insecurity also hurts student persistence. Sixty-one percent of respondents had experienced at least one form of basic needs insecurity; 49 percent were food insecure and 50 percent had faced challenges securing or maintaining affordable, safe and quality housing.

Only 5 percent of students self-identified as homeless, but 17 percent had been unhoused since starting college or within the past 12 months.

Most of the colleges represented in the survey are nonresidential campuses, requiring students to provide their own means of transportation to attend class. Eleven percent of respondents said they sometimes, often or always missed classes due to a lack of reliable transportation. Three-quarters of respondents used a car to commute to school, but parking availability is a struggle for some (11 percent).

Juggling responsibilities outside of college can also be a detriment to students’ learning. One-quarter of parenting students missed at least one day of class due to a lack of childcare and a similar number of working students missed at least one day of classes due to conflicts with their job.

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