Nearly all of us have worried about money at some point or another. College students, who often have limited income paired with high expenses, are no exception. In fact, a recent survey by the Ohio State University found that 74% of college students worry about their finances.
But what happens when that worry, whether it’s fully rational or not, starts to impact students’ ability to function fully?
This reality—referred to as money anxiety disorder—is a growing problem for college students. And since it has the potential to impact everything from grades to graduation rates, it’s an issue that colleges need to understand to support students.
While you won’t find money anxiety disorder on any official list of mental health concerns, that doesn’t mean it isn’t very real.
Like other money disorders, money anxiety disorder is essentially a financially focused variant of a broader set of mental health problems. In this case, people may show similar symptoms to general anxiety disorder, but focus their worries on money.
Some worry about money is normal, but when thoughts about finances become obsessive and distressing, it may be cause for concern.
Beyond the cost of college itself, students today face rising rent prices and inflation, as well as expenses like health care, childcare, transportation, and food. With all of these costs rising faster than wages, it’s no wonder that many are struggling financially—especially given the difficulty of working while in college.
These challenges can cause immense anxiety, and they can have disastrous results. Three million students drop out of college every year because of a financial emergency of under $500. Many students fear that their position in college is equally precarious—in fact, a full third of students consider leaving because of finances. That worry can even lead them to make rash decisions instead of exhausting all possible options for financial assistance.
College administrators may assume that their students’ personal finances are out of their control. However, colleges have the power to provide a number of resources that can help students cope with money anxiety disorder and with their genuine financial problems.
1. Provide financial education resources
Many students enter college without formal financial education, and struggle to navigate the maze of financial aid, student debt, and personal financial commitments. Colleges can consider providing optional financial education courses or workshops that help students learn to budget and manage their money. While that knowledge won’t solve financial challenges, it can help students feel more in control of their financial situations and reduce anxiety.
2. Offer mental health support
Money anxiety disorder isn’t just about the money itself. Universities should work closely with their mental health services team to ensure counselors understand the impacts and signs of financial anxiety and are equipped to treat students facing financial worries. In addition, student affairs and financial aid offices should ensure students know that mental health support is available if they struggle with money anxiety.
3. Publicize emergency aid and rental assistance options
Emergency aid and rental assistance are available to many students, yet in 2020 just 34% of eligible students applied for help. Part of the problem is that many students don’t know where to turn when they face money trouble, and may feel too ashamed to ask for help. Information about financial assistance options should be provided to students from enrollment onward, and included in any financial aid packages or billing materials.
4. Simplify aid application processes
Just advertising emergency aid options isn’t enough, of course. Aid must actually be accessible to the students who need it most. That means the application process needs to be streamlined, equitable, and easily navigable, and that funds need to be released quickly. Too often, emergency aid can take days or weeks to process, offering too little help too late for many students. Organizations like Edquity can help schools smooth the process for students. With Edquity’s application process, students can apply in as little as 7 minutes and receive funds within 25 hours, effectively lowering students’ anxiety and rapidly easing financial burdens.
The prevalence of money anxiety disorder is unsurprising given the demands today’s students face, but that doesn’t mean fighting it is a hopeless cause. To do so, colleges need to recognize their students' realities and provide both the financial support and the mental health treatment that students need to cope with their challenges and build a healthier relationship with money.
Are you working to streamline your school’s processes for offering students emergency aid or housing assistance? Contact Edquity to learn about our equitable, compliant solutions.