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Colleges Help Students Tackle Inflation

Suzanne Shaffer

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Inflation is taking its toll on everyone, and college students all across the country are feeling the crunch.

At Texas A&M University, students told local news they are definitely feeling the rise in prices.

A senior said, "Inflation has created more stress for budgeting purposes. Books are a little more expensive because of shipping costs, and there’s also food and groceries. I’m spending twice as much as I normally would've when I first started college in 2019.”

Rising costs of living affect everyone, but many college students, who primarily live on low incomes, are especially vulnerable to inflation. Inflation is taking its toll on college students — and colleges are taking measures to help their student populations cope.

Dealing With Food Insecurity

With soaring inflation, food prices nationwide jumped 6.3% last year and have continued to rise steadily. A recent survey by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University found that food insecurity was a reality for nearly one-third of all U.S. college students. The #RealCollege study found that 39% of students at two-year institutions and 29% of students at four-year institutions experienced food insecurity.

Colleges are responding to this dilemma by providing food pantries on campus. They're making food easily accessible to students and communicating its availability while encouraging students not to be ashamed or embarrassed when asking for help.

Erica Quintana-Garcia, assistant dean and director of the Student Care Center at MSU Denver, stated, “You shouldn’t have to choose between paying rent or feeding your family. It’s okay to say, ‘I need help with food.’ That’s what we’re here for.” By partnering with community services, the university can provide a free bi-monthly mobile food market on campus.

Dealing With High Gas Prices

Gas prices have come down a bit, but this is a big line item for students who commute to school because they live off campus or attend community college.

Last summer, Southwest Tennessee Community College President Tracy Hall decided to hold classes virtually on Fridays as a cost-saving measure. “Our students and employees, like the rest of the nation, are facing historic inflation numbers and increasing gas prices,” Hall said at the time. “We are concerned about their welfare and how they may be impacted by this increased cost of living.”

Compton College in California offers students a “GoPass” with unlimited free rides on the local Metro bus and rail through June 2023. Wayne State University has made transportation significantly easier for its students and employees by forming partnerships with four companies within Detroit to provide free commuting opportunities.

Dealing With Increased Housing Costs

A consequence of inflation is rising housing costs. Rents have gone up, making off-campus housing less appealing. Rising rents and higher gas and food prices make living on campus a more affordable choice.

“More and more students are seeing the value of the on-campus residential experience,” said John Capo, assistant professor of corporate communication at Lycoming College. “They’re choosing to live on campus rather than in off-campus housing because things like meal plans can be folded into the overall cost of attending college. It’s not just food. Many other expenses go down or even go away when you live on campus... You don’t have to send money to the electric or cable companies each month.”

One college addressed the rising cost of housing specifically. The University of California at Berkeley provides all of its housing below market value.

Dealing With Higher Tuition Costs

According to FinAid, “A good rule of thumb is that tuition rates will increase at about twice the general inflation rate.” If inflation is 4%, college inflation will be closer to 8% — and 8% inflation means that the cost of college doubles every nine years. Today, however, the inflation rate isn't 4%. It’s 9.1%, which puts college inflation potentially above 18%.

Many colleges are increasing scholarships, keeping grant levels steady, and providing additional funding to help students fund their educations. Other colleges are advertising small percentage tuition increases and even tuition freezes this year.

Morgan State University provides at least 10,000 free online courses and credit-bearing exams to prospective students. With this program, the university has been able to expand its access to more Maryland students than ever before, saving students thousands on tuition.

Unfortunately, higher tuition also forces more students to borrow money to pay for tuition and other college expenses. Editor-in-chief of EDI Refinance Melanie Hanson points out, “For many college students, there isn’t much of a choice here. They have to take out more student loans in order to stay afloat during college... If it’s a choice between taking on more debt now to finish a degree and dropping out, most people will choose to stay and finish.”

Find tips about responsible student loan borrowing >

Providing Emergency Funds

In this economy, most students don’t have discretionary funds available when emergencies arise.

The University of Virginia has several options to help students remain financially afloat, such as peer financial counseling, the Hoo Needs Help financial support network, and an emergency fund that offers a $500 loan that is interest-free and has no fees if it's paid back before the last day of the month after the loan was taken out.

Amherst College established a Student Emergency Fund in the fall of 2020 for students who experience financial strain and need supplemental resources due to temporary hardship. The funds distributed may cover expenses such as unforeseen medical costs, damage to educational materials, and emergency travel.

Vassar College’s Engaged Pluralism Initiative expanded a project that began before the pandemic to help students who need emergency funds by providing them with a short-term, interest-free loan.

Combating High Textbook Costs

With college costs rising and inflation becoming a problem, students might be tempted to go without certain textbooks, especially if they choose between buying a book or eating. However, there are ways to save money on textbooks, and some colleges are chipping in to help.

Vassar College’s Movement for Affordable Textbooks ensures that the college’s libraries purchase several copies of course textbooks.

Northwestern University has programs that help students who are struggling financially, such as the Books for Cats program, which allows students to borrow course materials from Barnes & Noble and the college’s chemistry department.

Dealing With Mental Health Issues

Economic insecurity can impact college students in other ways than an inability to pay bills or purchase essential items. Worry and concern over financial issues can influence their academic performance. It’s essential that colleges recognize the psychological impact inflation can have on their students.

For example, Belmont University recently expanded their mental health support to college students by buying Assistance Online and Timely Care. The two online platforms provide mental and physical health support for their students.

Find mental health support information and resources >

Could Inflation Have a Positive Impact?

Jo Ann Oravec, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater College of Business and Economics, decided to assign her students an essay about how rising prices are affecting their daily lives. Their responses might indicate there is a positive impact of inflation.

Several students reported drinking less at bars, eating less at restaurants, and organizing potlucks, picnics, and other low-cost alternative gatherings instead.

Orvac discussed the results of her student essay project in a recent article. Although inflation certainly has a negative impact on student lives, “This academic tailgating brings them closer to each other as friends and fellow students. At least this is one positive outcome of these stressful economic conditions. Binge drinking at taverns has replaced sharing, camaraderie, and friendship.”

Your college student is certainly feeling the strain and stress of rising inflation. It’s good to know that colleges are implementing programs to help them through difficult times so they can focus on academics.

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Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
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