Economic instability is one of the most critical issues facing college students. Data on the financial crises young adults face demonstrates a severe need for institutional intervention — which UNC has failed to live up to.
According to Ohio State News, nearly 60 percent of college students say they feel worried about having enough money to pay for their education, and rightfully so. Tuition rates are higher than they have ever been, increasing at a much more dramatic rate than the median household income.
Additionally, college students from low-income families face more responsibility regarding financing their future. Many must find part- or even full-time jobs to support themselves during college. Working while attending school is the new normal for students, with 80 percent having a job while enrolled in college, according to research from Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
Most of the time, these jobs help with paying monthly bills rather than covering tuition or loans.
Meanwhile, working part or full time while taking classes can jeopardize the quality of these students' academic performance.
More than half of the 6 million low-income students who work 15 hours or more had an average of a C or lower, according to Carnevale's research. Struggling with finances as a college student isn’t a new concept, but the larger issues associated with economic instability among students go beyond simply needed to work.
The most severe consequence of economic instability among students is homelessness. A startling 17 percent of community college students report experiencing homelessness, according to a 2019 survey of 167,000 students by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. Around half of students surveyed reported housing insecurity, only being able to pay part of their rent, not paying bills, sleeping regularly on a friend's couch or sleeping in their car.
While the full extent of the issues students face isn’t always visible, colleges and universities are taking some actions to help. UNC, among many other institutions, offers need-based financial awards, laptop and technology grants and departmental awards.
"The University and the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid is fully committed to providing an affordable undergraduate education to every student who earns admissions," said UNC Vice Provost for Enrollment Rachelle Feldman in an emailed statement.
According to Feldman, a combination of grants, work-study, scholarships and financial aid are used to meet the full demonstrated financial need of students.
Durham Technical Community College, a popular transfer school for UNC students, offers an emergency-finance grant of up to $1,000 and has a food pantry serviced to students weekly by appointment. Many schools also offer financial advisers for students.
Is all that enough? Although grants are available, they are certainly limited and can come with requirements in order to receive them. In addition, there are often committees or groups that make decisions on who receives the grants.
Furthermore, these grants must be accessed online, which means applicants must have reliable broadband service to access pages, which are not always easy to navigate. Grants and scholarships also typically fall immensely short compared to tuition rates.
If students and high enrollment rates are important to the success of campuses and institutions, why is financial support for students so hard to come by?
Universities must act to create tangible and understandable financial plans to meet students' needs. This also means implementing financial advisers for all students and paying close attention to students who hold jobs, as this has become a common reality for students.
More action should be taken to create safe campuses and surrounding cities, as some students might not have a place to stay all the time and sleep in their cars. Better yet, housing and food should be a top priority for schools seeking to provide for students lacking the most basic needs.
If a degree to your name is the most important thing in a constantly evolving economy and increasingly inaccessible workforce, then higher education should be attainable for everyone regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances.
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