91% of community college students want more info about financial aid

Better communication may be the answer

The results of a recent survey by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCSE) show that community college students' attitudes toward affordability are largely negative, and many don't think their schools are doing enough in the way of communication about financial assistance.

To conduct the survey, CCSE asked over 99,000 community college students at 177 institutions a series of questions about how affordability affects their education. Questions were also aimed at determining how these students' institutions might improve their financial situations.

Of the respondents, 27% strongly disagreed that their colleges provide enough information on financial assistance and 91% said they need more information about financial assistance.

Respondents also said they experience a number of financial challenges:

  • 59% say they would struggle to come up with $1,000 in the case of an emergency;
  • Roughly 50% work more than 20 hours per week in addition to taking classes;
  • 30% work more than 30 hours per week in addition to taking classes;
  • 47% say that financial problems could cause them to leave school; and
  • Over 50% report having too much student loan debt.

Pell Grants from the government help these students to a certain extent—in fact, almost 40% of students receive them—but they don't fully address financial need. Sixty-one percent of Pell Grant recipients live below the poverty line, and 41% rely on student loans in addition to the grants. 

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Writing for the Hechinger Report, Evelyn Waiwaiole points out that these financial issues are especially problematic considering how essential a college degree is today. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Associate degree holders make an average of $120 more per week than high school-only graduates; and
  • The earnings for bachelor's degree holders are an average of $459 per week higher.

So what's the solution?

Waiwaiole says some states have made strides in community college affordability by establishing systems of scholarships and tuition waivers, but that colleges themselves could be doing much more. 

It's not just your words. When and how you communicate with students matters, too.

Particularly in regard to communication, Waiwaiole argues "there is room for improvement." Clear student communication is vital for all institutions, but even more so for community colleges, where 36% of students identify as first-generation. Melinda Salaman, director of strategic research at EAB, says these students may not have the cultural capital needed to navigate the ins and outs of college—which can be easy for those who do speak the language of higher education to overlook.

Waiwaiole says community colleges should:

  • Teach students about financial literacy;
  • Provide clear information about the FAFSA;
  • Connect students to scholarships and public benefits;
  • Connect students with nutrition and transportation assistance; and
  • Make sure all faculty and staff are informed about financial support services.

(Waiwaiole, Hechinger Report, 4/11).

Best practices for helping community college students navigate to success

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