One of the biggest financial problems for the students of Hartnell College is the exceeding amount of financial stress. Students can experience financial stress for several different reasons. The most obvious is the cost of attending college and its classes. Students then depends on student loans and financial aid to help pay for not only classes but all the expensive books as well. Even though students do not need to rush to repay their loans while in college, the typical bachelor’s graduate with a loan amassed nearly $24,000 in student loan debt.
Students start to worry about their ability to earn enough money to repay their loans, especially in our times of high unemployment for young adults. Other reason that lead to financial stress is unpredictable emergencies or expenses, like a hospital bill or car accident. Most students usually have a bit of emergency money in their savings,but when it’s something more than they can handle they will definitely have a rough time trying to pay that said unexpected payment. A parent may also lose a job and be unable to contribute to their child’s education, increasing a student’s responsibility for paying for their college expenses. Students may also experience stress from balancing their school and work responsibilities.
Over the past few decades, more traditional age students are working and working substantially more hours. Therefore, an increasing number of students must balance the need to work to pay for the college or living expenses and the need to study. College students frequently experience financial stress. According to a recent national survey, 35 percent of students said their finances were “traumatic” or “very difficult” to handle. Students only more frequently cited academics as a stressor causing the same level of distress. However, only nine percent of students indicated that financial worries affected their academic performance. A survey focusing specifically on financial stress found that four of the five most common stressors among students related to their personal finances. First-year students more frequently experienced “extreme” or “high stress” related to the cost of education and living than other students. A third of students also said that finances negatively influenced their academic performance and progress, a rate substantially higher than the study above. Additionally, one out of five students reduced the number of courses they enrolled in due to their finances.
A predecessor to this study found that about 70 percent of first-year undergraduates surveyed evidenced financial stress. Among these students, it identified four latent ways or types that students cope with financial stress. The first group, financially stressed, no impact, was comprised of students concerned about paying for college and their regular expenses, but did not change their behavior due to their finances. Students belonging to the second group, financially stressed, low impact, reported worrying about money and investigated working and/or borrowing more. Members of the financially stressed, medium impact group were stressed, choose not to participate in activities due to a lack of money, investigated working more, and believed that their financial concerns interfered with their academic performance. The fourth group, financially stressed, high impact, contained students who indicated support for all financial stress questions including not participating in activities, not purchasing required academic materials, and investigating dropping out due to costs, and believed that financial concerns impacted their academic performance. The analyses also identified a fifth group, not financially stressed, comprised of students who did not worry about paying for college and having enough money for their regular expenses.
While limited research on the impacts of financial stress exists, economists have much research demonstrating the role money plays in educational decisions and outcomes. Becker demonstrated how the accumulation of education and skills results in higher earnings and thus demand for a college degree. Student aid, whether directly or indirectly provided to students, has been found to influence college enrollment and choice. Financial aid also promotes persistence. Financial barriers, such as unmet need, have been correlated with dropping out, particularly among low income students. Additionally, replacing loans with scholarships has substantial impacts on persistence. Simulations suggest that the magnitude of the effect is so large compared to need-based grants that students perceived that scholarships have a value beyond their monetary value.
Psychology theories on stress guided this study. Stress is an individual’s reaction to an external demand or the absence of means. This reaction occurs through the interaction of a stressor, an external demand, and an individual’s situation. Stressors take various forms from minor inconveniences to life changing events and can have both positive and negative consequences. Coping occurs when an individual reacts to stress and is expressed through both behavioral and mental processes (Folkman, 1984; Folkman & Lazarus, 1980). It also can have either beneficial or harmful effects on individuals. How an individual reacts to stress is referred to as a coping strategy and can vary both between and within individuals. Coping strategies generally fall into two groups: problem- and emotion-focused coping. When an individual uses a problem-focused coping style, they attempt to alter their relationship with a stressor. For example, a student stressed by a poor grade on a midterm exam may cope by spending more time studying for a final. An emotion-focused coping strategy seeks to reduce the emotional reactions caused by a stressor.
Another student stressed by a poor grade may also try to distract themselves from their academic problems by playing video games, demonstrating an emotion-focused coping strategy. Financial stress is “the unpleasant feeling that one is unable to meet financial demands, afford the necessities of life, and have sufficient funds to make ends meet”. For students, financial demands could include tuition or loan payments or the desire to go on an expensive spring break trip. Since a lack of money causes financial stress, a problem-focused coping strategy requires students to increase their money supply or reduce their expenses. Common forms of obtaining additional money include working more or taking out additional student loans. Students may also reduce their expenses by a variety of ways such as transferring to a lower cost college or eating out less. Students who pursue an emotion-based strategy would attempt to distract themselves their money problems by watching more TV or studying more.
Due to the increasing financial pressures absorbed by undergraduates, understanding how financial stress impacts their college experiences is imperative. This study uniquely investigated how various coping strategies for financial stress influenced first-year students’ behaviors and perceptions. Our findings indicated that students who experienced financial stress more frequently engaged in a variety of beneficial educational activities than students who did not experience financial stress. However, financially stressed students perceived a less supportive campus environment. Our results also demonstrated that the magnitude of financial stress’ impact on students varies by the coping strategy utilized by students. The results in combination suggest that financial stress is a multifaceted phenomenon that impacts a diverse range of behaviors and perceptions. While our findings provide initial insights into the effects of financial stress, more research needs to examine this growing problem.