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The Daily Tar Heel

Op-ed: College debt affects academic performance

By Ashley Bulchandani, first-year chemistry major

Money, balance, finance, loans, stress, academics, work-study, etc. Does hearing that give you stress and anxiety? All college students have struggled with some sort of college debt in their lives and, currently, it is a big issue in the media and in most American households. When kids pick colleges, they think about the financial obstacles that might be in the way.

As a current college student, I am personally struggling with college debt and paying off my loans. College debt creates a lot of anxiety and stress for students, and many start working immediately after or during college to help pay off their loans, which can take a toll on a college student’s mental, emotional and physical health trying to balance work with school. It also affects a student’s social life and their academic performance in classes greatly. Excessive college debt and loans result in overall low academic performance in college and low graduate school attendance.

Debt accumulation can stress out students and lead to negative behaviors such as drinking, smoking, working a lot and not focusing in class. A study was done in a public university to assess the relationship between college credit card debt and academic performance. Students were asked their level of anxiety/stress, class attendance, study habits, etc. The results show that the more debt a student had, the more hours they had to work, and the less time they dedicated to studying. This negative correlation shows the detrimental effects of student debt and the possible long-term consequences such as missing classes, considering dropping out, and being less committed to good grades. Another result was that more debt was directly related to increased drinking, and this led to decreasing GPAs and lower overall grades. To improve this problem, colleges should either decrease the burden of debt among students, or help them find other alternatives to balance work and study where having a job wouldn't take away time from studying. An example would be to offer students work-study options where they can work in labs or research where they can learn and work for money simultaneously.

A similar study was done at Montana State, except the difference was that this study also looked at how targeted information can make a difference. Students with a significant loan or debt would receive a letter, warning and guiding them toward better actions and academic decisions, and students with no or a small amount of debt would not receive the letter. The results showed that those who received the letter had improved GPAs, a higher number of credits completed and increased retention in school. This shows that guidance on how to manage debt and time management skills can lead to academic success.

Debt leads to stress, which leads to studying less, which then leads to poor performance in school, and that can discourage students from continuing their education. Students who lose hope and have poor grades usually find less opportunities upon graduation, such as getting into a graduate school. In a final study, researcher Lei Zhang looked at the effects of educational debt on graduate school attendance and early career and lifestyle choices. The results showed a negative effect. Fewer students in public universities choose to pursue graduate degrees due to high debt and loans.

You can tackle this problem by learning where and when to spend and save money during undergrad. More work-study options and scholarships could also be great options to help pay for graduate school to reduce debt. Getting advice on how to plan out all this early on can really make a difference for students in the long run!

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