posted on November 20, 2012 15:55
"How will I pay for college?" This question plagues parents and students from the moment that college is a consideration through graduation and sometimes for many years after. The authors of Trends in Higher Education (2007) noted that a low income family will pay almost 40% of the family's income for a student to attend a public four-year school. The cost attendance rose dramatically, by over 33%, in ten years, according to Trends in Higher Education (2007). With this dramatic increase, it is no wonder that parents and students are concerned about the impact of college attendance on a family's financial well-being.
New Student Financial Concerns
When a family arrives on campus for summer registration, the academic advisor is often the first institutional official to spend time with them. In the advising session, the advisor usually has a list of items that must be covered in the session, none of which include financial issues. Academic advisors traditionally have referred financial questions to the Financial Aid office. However, this is not always necessary.
Holistic academic advising can easily incorporate financial issues, career planning, and major selection; all of which are integral to student success. Unlike other student success areas, such as motivation and time management, students have little control over their financial aid situation. Many students and parents are complete novices to the issues surrounding the financing of a college education; they may feel helpless in the financial aid process. Even though students may do everything they are supposed to do in the process, they often come to summer registration unsure of their ability to pay for college.
If academic advisors are to effectively advise a family about financial issues they need baseline knowledge about how the financial aid process works and the issues associated with funding a college education. Below are some suggestions that can help advisors increase their knowledge about college finances:
- Meet with financial aid representative on your campus to learn the application process. After the meeting, ask the representative to serve as a direct contact to the Financial Aid office. Advisors who do this can direct students with financial aid questions to a person, not just an office.
- Advisors should be aware of financial aid deadlines on their campuses. They should learn about how those deadlines affect students' courses and fees. Also, learn how changing classes affects students' financial aid. How will dropping below fulltime status affect a student? Where should advisors send students to discover for more information on these topics?
- Attend a workshop, seminar, and/or course on college finances.
Why should advisors talk to students about money? Financial concerns are one of the most commonly noted reasons students leave college. On many campuses academic advisors are held responsible for student persistence. One way to increase student persistence is to increase students' knowledge about financial issues. While there are formal financial programs that have proven successful with college students, an academic advisor can provide students with informal financial education that may help them persist in college. Academic advisors can discuss many financial issues with students including:
- the value of a college education. Sherfield, Montgomery and Moody (2005) noted that, on average, a person with a bachelor's degree earns 48% more annually than someone with a high school diploma.
- reassuring a family that they incur little to no cost by registering for classes without a financial aid package in hand.
- explain the process of payment and registration cancellation.
- financial concerns need not be an impediment to getting the right courses for the student.
Continuing students’ financial concerns
Financial concerns often shift once a student enters college. The initial fear of paying for college is over. Now, the student experiences the freedom of college life and the desire to maintain or gain a certain lifestyle. On the surface, it may appear that college students living on campus should have little or no expenses. However, many students struggle to pay for the wants of college life. Unfortunately, many students turn to credit cards to pay from anything from a pizza at a local restaurant to a Spring Break trip to Panama City Beach.Lawrence, Burczyk-Brown, Christofferson, Fair, Moser, and Tucker (2006) reported on a Louisiana State University a survey in which 70.9% of the students surveyed had at least one credit card. Baum and O’Malley (2003) found that among students with credit cards, 27% use a credit card to pay for college expenses.
Academic advisors can address financial responsibility as a behavior that directly impacts academic success. It is the advisor’s responsibility to work with students to overcome educational obstacles, including financial responsibilities. Below find a list of some of the financial topics that advisors may consider addressing with a student:
- Students spend money on what they think important. What is more important, a new outfit or college degree?
- What is the difference between a need and a want?
- Do students have a budget? If not, show students some of the resources that can help them create one.
- Realize that parents worked several years to obtain a lifestyle. At age 18, students cannot expect to have what their parents have now.
- Why do parents work so many hours each week? Where do their paychecks go? What things can be cut from their budgets so they can work less?
Students my not openly admit to financial concerns. Sometimes students do not realize that the decisions they make have an impact on their academics. Advisors should look for warning signs that students are experiencing financial stress:
- Not purchasing textbooks
- Not attending class
- Work life is interfering with school work
- Making large purchases without a steady source of income
Connecting the warning signs to a bigger picture of financial and academic stress may assist students in making better financial decisions. Awareness is the first step on the path to financial responsibility.
How can an academic advisor talk to students about financial responsibility? When advisors use the information listed above, they can develop a plan of action for talking to students about financial responsibilities.
- Talk to the student on her level. Do not use terminology that the student may not understand.
- See budgeting as another new freedom associated with college. Many students have not handled their own finances before attending college.
- Advisors should tell their own stories. Students want to hear that they are not alone. Advisors who have a story about finances in college should let the student know a little about their situation.
The importance of financial responsibility in student success
Financial responsibility is one of the many skills students need if they are to be successful in college and life. Like time management and career decisions, making good financial decisions in college will help students make the transition into the working world. Bad financial decisions in college can impact a student’s life for many years afterward.
Advisors should not be afraid to refer a student to financial experts when necessary; an academic advisor’s responsibility is to show the connection between finances and success in college, not to be a financial aid counselor. Advisors should utilize the resources on their campuses to help students get the financial advice they need to be successful in college.
Authored by: Theresa Hitchcock
Director of Advising and Resource Center
University of Southern Indiana
Additional overview of issues surrounding advising students on financial aid and financial planning issues
S. and O’Malley, M. ( February 6, 2003 ).College on credit:
How borrowers perceive their education debt. Braintree, MA
: Nellie Mae The College Board. (2007). Trends in college pricing: 2002. Washington, DC: The College Entrance Examination Board.
The College Board. (2007). Trends in higher education series 2007. Washington, DC, The College Entrance Examination Board.
Sherfield, R.B., Montgomery, R.J and Moddy, P.G (2005). Cornerstone: building on your best. Columbus, OH: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Cite this using APA style as:
Hitchcock, T. (2008). Mind over money. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Website: