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Three ways to connect students with financial support

How colleges can help students impacted by inflation and the cost of living crisis

July 8, 2024, By Alexa Silverman, Senior Director, Student Experience and Well-Being Research

A greater share of college students than ever before is struggling financially. It’s impacting all areas of their life, including their ability to succeed in college. 47% of college students already felt unprepared to manage finances before the pandemic. In the past year, the data tell us things have gotten even worse:

Financial readiness needs to be part of the bigger conversation we’re having about student readiness overall. That’s because students’ financial well-being is critical to their academic success. Think of the student who is at risk of losing housing because she dropped to part-time status and doesn’t feel safe staying with family. The student who is so hungry he can’t concentrate in class, but can’t afford a meal plan. Or the student who is so stressed about student loans that she takes a part-time job and now doesn’t have enough time to study for exams.

These student situations are complex, touching multiple campus services and supports. Yet at EAB we hear that students often bring these questions to the one person on campus they know is there to support them: their academic advisor. Even with the best cross-training, it’s challenging for advisors to keep track of the constantly changing details they need to know to answer these questions, and as a result students often report being “bounced around” between campus offices.

To solve these challenges and reduce student “bounce”, our research identified three easy opportunities for warm handoffs, from advising to financial support.

#1. Financial aid cheat sheet

The University of South Carolina-Upstate provides a one-page cheat sheet with the ten most common questions students ask their advisors about financial aid. Having a centrally-provided cheat sheet handy keeps advisors from having to look up the answers themselves and ensures that the information is correct. To create a cheat sheet on your own campus, ask advisors as well as staff in the financial aid office, bursar’s office, international student office, and registrar’s office about the most common questions they get from students about finances, satisfactory progress, and eligibility.

#2. Integrated referral portal

If faculty or staff at Northern Kentucky University hear a question from a student about finances or basic needs, they know exactly where to go. Every university intranet page has a link on top to Help a Norse. Help a Norse is a one-stop referral portal where anyone on campus can submit an alert that a student needs help. Academic and financial referrals are sent to EAB’s Navigate platform, so that staff from the right office can reach out to a student in need. Using a single referral portal ensures that students don’t have to seek help on their own, and faculty and staff don’t have to memorize separate contact information depending on what issue a student needs help with.

#3. Financial advisors

Some student questions are so complex and multifaceted that there isn’t any one office on most campuses that can respond. That’s especially true for first-generation students, who aren’t accustomed to navigating the maze of resources on campus.

In response to the needs of their first-generation students, Northern Illinois University launched its office of Student Financial Advising Services. Staff in this office now support all NIU students, offering group workshops and one-on-one support for students and their families in understanding college finance, building a budget, and addressing challenges that come up along the student journey.

Student Financial Advising Services is not a financial aid office and can advise students on much wider-ranging topics than just institutional and federal aid. The office also offers appointments in Spanish and during the evening hours, to reduce the barriers to access for students and their families.

Alexa Silverman

Senior Director, Student Experience and Well-Being Research

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