Round Rock, TX – More than sixty percent of students responding to Trellis’ annual Student Financial Wellness Survey (SFWS) signaled concern about college affordability. Nearly a quarter of them lacked a plan on how to pay for their next semester.

While the survey was conducted just a few months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Trellis’ SFWS results deliver additional depth and clarity to past studies and trends, as well as help to create an important pre-pandemic baseline on student financial wellness. Trellis’ SFWS received responses from more than 38,000 undergraduate students from 78 colleges and universities in 20 states. The results are available via a downloadable PDF and in a mobile-friendly version.

This year’s results provide new insights on students who work while attending college, those who support family members while in college, and other key financial behaviors (including the use of student loans, credit cards, and payday and auto title loans). Among the notable findings, nearly half of students indicated that they used a credit card for purchases in the last year. Among these credit card users, more than three in five said they do not fully pay off their balances each month.

Also new this year, Trellis’ SFWS compares financial wellness and behaviors between 2-year and 4-year colleges. For example, Trellis found that students who work while attending 2-year institutions were more likely than their counterparts at 4-year institutions to report working at least 40 hours per week (33 percent vs. 19 percent, respectively).

“It has been our experience that schools that understand their students’ financial wellness are better positioned to help students succeed,” said Scott Giles, President and CEO of Trellis Company. “We make our annual Student Financial Wellness Survey available to any interested U.S. college or university at no charge as a part of our commitment to this outcome.”

In addition to important insights and trends, this year’s report offers actionable “Research to Practice” guidance for higher education practitioners. Examples of solutions being implemented on campuses today provide direction for increasing student success and financial wellness.
Notable data points from the 2020 Student Financial Wellness Survey include:

  • Many students lacked a financial plan to return for the next semester.
    • A quarter of respondents at 4-year institutions — and 22 percent of respondents at 2-year institution — disagreed or strongly disagreed that they knew how they would pay for college next semester.
  • Most students work while attending college.
    • Three-quarters of respondents at 2-year institutions indicated that they work for pay, as did 69 percent of 4-year respondents.
  • Students finances are vulnerable to unexpected expenses that may arise during their semester.
    • More than three in five respondents (61 percent) at 2-year institutions — and more than half of 4-year respondents (57 percent) — indicated they would have trouble getting $500 in cash or credit in an emergency.
  • Respondents at 2-year institutions were more likely to provide support for parents, children, spouses, and other family members.
    • Nearly a third of 2-year respondents (32 percent) provide financial support for a child or children while in school, compared to 10 percent of 4-year respondents.
    • Fifteen percent of 2-year respondents and 12 percent of 4-year respondents support parents or guardians financially.
  • Many students borrow but have little confidence in their ability to repay.
    • More than two-thirds of respondents that borrowed at 2-year institutions (70 percent) — and 73 percent at 4-year institutions — were not at all confident or only somewhat confident that they would be able to pay off debt acquired while they were a student.
  • Respondents at 2-year and 4-year institutions have high levels of basic needs insecurity.
    • More than half of respondents at 2-year and 4-year institutions showed signs of either low or very low food security.
    • Nearly half (49 percent) of respondents at 2-year institutions — and 42 percent of respondents at 4-year institutions — showed signs of being housing insecure.
    • A noteworthy percentage of respondents at 2-year (15 percent) and 4-year (13 percent) institutions report homelessness.

“Students are often supporting family members and working while attending college and face many challenges throughout the school year—managing the cost of living, debt repayments, and unexpected expenses that arise,” said Kasey Klepfer, Senior Research Analyst at Trellis and lead author of the report.

“The survey documents the complex, precarious ways students pay for college with a depth unavailable elsewhere,” said Jeff Webster, Director of Research at Trellis. “It is timely enough to make meaningful adjustments that can help students achieve their academic potential.”

To access or download the report, please visit


About Trellis Company
Trellis Company is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation with the dual mission of helping student borrowers successfully repay their education loans and promoting access and success in higher education. Trellis has a 40-year successful track record of delivering positive outcomes for students and institutions. Trellis’ strong philanthropic heritage of giving through grants to colleges, universities, and research groups remains focused on improving student outcomes, especially to assist underserved students and families, and to help institutions navigate the changing landscape of higher education.

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