From education to employment

Supporting Students During the Cost-of-Living Crisis​

Carly Foster
Carly Foster, Head of Student Success at Arden University, discusses the options universities should be exploring to support students during the cost-of-living crisis.

With the Save The Student survey finding student living costs in 2022 have risen by 14% since 2021, without a proportionate increase in support from maintenance loans, more and more students are facing financial troubles while studying at university.

These financial worries are exacerbated by tuition fees and debt, alongside students having limited employability options while studying. This leaves universities with a responsibility to provide support to break down financial barriers for students.

Carly Foster, Head of Student Success at Arden University, discusses the options universities should be exploring to support students during the cost-of-living crisis. This includes scholarships, hardship funds, and supplying financial wellbeing education. It is important that universities are adaptable to the everchanging environment and open to undertaking new initiatives. They must design creative solutions which reflect and promote the culture and values of their institution.

The need for flexibility

With rising costs, students who might usually rely on the Bank of Mum and Dad may struggle to do so and those who don’t have that option in the first place may struggle even more. An increasing number of students are solely relying on loans and grants. Some are dipping into their savings, but the Save the Student survey found that the most common source of money for students was a part-time job.

Being able to maintain a part-time, or even full-time job while studying is no easy feat, especially when many universities don’t offer any form of flexible learning. For many students regardless of whether they are full-time or part-time students, they have to make their life outside education fit around their university timetable. In the era of digital learning, this is no longer necessary.

With the increasing need for students to have a day job to keep up with personal financial pressures, flexibility is key. Even for students with other commitments, such as caring for a family member or looking after children, allowing them to fit their higher education journey around their life is much more accessible.

Giving students the option to pause their education journey, without having to wait until the start of the new year to resume, is the ideal universities should be moving towards. We need to realise that sometimes life, or financial circumstances just get in the way. For those who wish to continue with education but are struggling to make ends meet, offering evening classes is a good start to free up time for students to work as well as study.

The survey revealed that just under a third of students have their own business or side hustle. By offering flexibility, students may be able to have more time to focus on their own business ventures while also studying.

Further, to help open doors for a more diverse cohort of students, a willingness to be less rigid with traditional forms of assessment and applications, are also good ways to offer a more flexible route into higher education. By looking at their qualifications outside of education and how much career experience students have, universities can assess the level of education they need to move up and progress even further.

Offering scholarships and grants

The survey also revealed that 30% of students said they received money from grants, bursaries and scholarships, but 42% said they weren’t made aware of the funding options, like grants, that were available to them.

Ensuring financial options are clear to students joining is vital. Scholarships are a great means of getting people with different skills and backgrounds into higher education – especially those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. But the main medium of assessing their entry, via essays and exams, remains to target those who had access to education growing up.

To open up courses to the array of expertise and intelligence among us, universities need to make sure their way of assessing truly captures the different skills many possess. This can be done with more practical assessments.

Universities can also offer to support students with particular education related bills. For example, at Arden University, we offer scholarships that cover the cost of a laptop, the books and resources students need throughout their education journey.

Setting up students with a subscription to Microsoft Office 365 during their studies, completely free of charge, is another example of helping students their studies without bursting their wallets. Small gestures such as this can make all the difference to those financially struggling.

A Hardship Fund can also provide help for the students struggling the most and give a clear avenue for students suffering from financial poverty to ask for help. Our hardship fund assesses each student on a case by case basis so that we can understand their needs and develop a support package that best suits them, whether it be covering energy bills, rent, transport costs or internet bills.

It’s important that we implement financial help like a hardship fund in a way that keeps it open and accessible for students who may be anxious about asking for help, we don’t set a threshold for the fund, instead assessing it based on the student’s circumstances. We don’t want financial concerns to impact on student success.

Teaching resilience and financial wellbeing

Around three-quarters of students in the survey said they wished they’d had better financial education at school and over a half (63%) said it wasn’t easy to get financial advice or support from their university; offering personal finance seminars or access to financial wellbeing support is a step to help students that may be struggling.

Wellbeing support is important, too. Financial concerns can have a deep impact on wellbeing and our overall stress levels. Research from The Student Room found that 92% of students felt anxious, scared or stressed about the cost of living.

Our students, for example, have free access to Togetherall, which offers confidential online wellbeing support and advice 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Whether students are struggling to sleep, feeling low or stressed, or finding themselves unable to cope, offering a platform such as Togetherall can help students get the support they need to feel better.

We also provide access to Blackbullion so that students have access to self-help articles and budgeting tools, it helps avoid students getting drawn into something like cryptocurrency without fully understanding it.

While financial education can’t solve the cost-of-living crisis, it can give people more confidence to budget and manage their finances. If needed, we can also assign students financial wellbeing courses we think they’ll particularly benefit from.

In the 2021 Save The Student survey, 76% of students said they had thought about dropping out of university at some point; unfortunately, this figure has now risen to 82%. Now more than ever universities need to ensure they are offering the right support to their students – whether that means tailoring and changing the courses that are offered, or giving students access to financial advice or support. 

As a higher education system, we should all want to ensure that no matter where students come from, we are giving them all the support they need to ensure they go on to achieve everything they aspire to in their professional lives.

By Carly Foster, Head of Student Success at Arden University

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