Students piece together financial support from a variety of sources. Some aid (e.g., tuition waivers, grants, family support) directly reduces out-of-pocket expenses for students, while forms of credit postpone payments in exchange for paying fees and interest. Colleges that understand how their students are paying for college can take steps to help their students secure and manage stable funding that enables them to graduate while avoiding financial pitfalls.
- Many students signaled concern with being able to afford college. (Q51)
- More than three in five respondents at 2-year (61 percent) – and 4-year (70 percent) institutions – agreed or strongly agreed that they worry about having enough money to pay for school.
- Many students lacked a financial plan to return for the next semester. (Q52)
- A quarter of respondents at 4-year institutions – and 22 percent of respondents at 2-year institutions – disagreed or strongly disagreed that they knew how they would pay for college next semester.
Q30-38: Do you use any of the following methods to pay for college? Respondents who answered ‘Yes’
Q51: I worry about having enough money to pay for school.*
Q52: I know how I will pay for college next semester.*
Paying for college can be challenging. Sometimes funding from parents and jobs can dry up suddenly or unforeseen expenses can abruptly arise. In these cases, even modest grants, if distributed promptly, can be enough to meet the immediate need and keep the student in school.1,2
While most colleges work with a student to develop a plan to meet academic goals, it is less common – but no less essential – to develop financial plans for degree completion. Such plans can reduce student stress, prepare the student for unanticipated financial disruptions, and identify funding gaps early enough to shift resources and priorities to ensure retention.
Nearly three out of four students have unmet need – the out-of-pocket cost of college beyond expected family contribution, grants, scholarships, and work-study. Those with greater unmet need are less likely to persist in college.3, 4 Institutions that use high unmet need as a retention risk-factor may consider unmet need levels when packaging student aid, fundraising for institutional grant aid, and advocating for increased funding for state and federal student aid programs.