College Students Stay Committed to Education in Spite of Financial Challenges

Aug 12, 2010

BookRenter has released the results of their national College Experience Survey, which explores students' experiences and attitudes regarding finances. They found that most students have made major sacrifices to pay for their education and feel that they were unprepared for today's financial challenges when they started school.

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Student with Parent

Students Feel Unprepared for the Real World

As the recession collides with tuition hikes, students are having to stretch their budgets - and their imaginations - more than ever to pay for school. BookRenter, an online textbook rental service, recently conducted a national survey of 4-year college and university students between the ages of 17 and 25. The College Experience Survey explores students' feelings and experiences related to financing their education.

A recent study by Sallie Mae found that parents are still contributing almost half of all college costs, but 60% of respondents in the BookRenter survey reported that their parents have been unable to pay for tuition. This was disappointing to many students - although only 3% felt that their parents should cover all of their expenses, 55% reported feeling that parents should be responsible for everything but spending money, including textbooks, living expenses and tuition.

And with today's struggling job market, students no longer expect their financial dependence to end with college. Sallie Mae found that 43% of students are currently living at home, and BookRenter found that at least 20% of those living away from home expect to move back after school ends. Even if they don't plan to move home, the majority (69%) anticipate that they'll rely on their parents financially in some fashion after graduation.

Even those students who don't expect to be supported by their parents place some of the blame for their financial troubles on their parents' shoulders. Students feel that their parents simply failed to teach them enough about money management to be prepared for financial independence. Seventy-seven percent report feeling unprepared to manage their own money when they left for college, and 85% believe that it was their parents' responsibility to teach them about finance.

However, many students seem to think that the parenting oversight came more from a lack of financial competence than anything else. Twenty-seven percent went so far as to say that they learned how not to manage money from watching their parents. And 51% report fearing that their parents won't be able to retire when or how they want due to a lack of financial planning. Hopefully the fact that students are aware of these difficulties now will help train the college-aged generation to pay more attention to money matters as they age.

Earning Money

Getting Creative - and Desperate - to Earn Money

Faced with tight budgets and armed with little financial savvy, students are working hard to make ends meet. Seventy-one percent report saving money whenever possible, and many having gotten creative about making an extra buck. So creative, in fact, that one in seven admitted to being embarrassed by things they've done to earn money in school. When asked what they were doing for extra cash, responses ranged from donating plasma to going on game shows.

Some students told sad stories of selling treasured family heirlooms, gambling for money and even selling their own bodies. One person reported pawning $300-$400 worth of his belongings at the beginning of each term. After his financial aid disbursement finally arrived, the student purchased everything back, then started the cycle all over again the following semester.

Other students found random odd jobs, such as handing out balloons dressed as a gorilla for $20, or dressing up as a dog and handing out flyers in front of a small business for $35. One student earned $50 for participating in medical testing, and another got a $75 gift certificate to the school bookstore for taking a standardized test. Another participant reported performing tricks like drinking a 'nasty drink' for $50.

Most respondents expressed frustration at being forced to take jobs that don't utilize their skills, from washing dishes in the dining hall to toiling away in a dirty factory. One student grumbled that he worked 'crappy jobs that don't allow me to use a single brain cell. '

Saving Money

BookRenter also set out to find out what students would do if they had more money - $500 more per term, to be precise. Students gave surprisingly responsible answers, including saving it (61%), putting it towards education expenses (56%), giving it to their parents (11%) and paying down credit card debt (11%).

The results of the survey and students' tales of desperation should be a wakeup call for families across the country. Teaching your children the skills they need to manage their finances is crucial to their ability to survive the growing burden of college expenses.

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