4 in 10 College Students Change Plans Amid Pandemic Money Struggles

4 in 10 College Students Change Plans Amid Pandemic Money Struggles

Majority of students are having trouble paying for food and rent, survey finds
A college student wearing a face mask

More than a year after government-mandated shutdowns began in the United States, college students are struggling to make ends meet amid the lingering coronavirus pandemic.

Because of immense economic hardships, 60% of students reported difficulty affording food and rent, while almost 40% said they were changing their educational or career plans, according to a recent survey from online learning platform Course Hero.

Many students now say college not worth the sticker price

A key finding from the survey were the ongoing concerns about the value of higher education — especially one received remotely. Specifically, just 56% of respondents said they believed they were getting their money's worth from their educational institution.

Among those surveyed, Course Hero found that white students were roughly twice as likely to doubt the value of a college education compared with their Black and Latino peers. And when broken down by institution, community college students were "least likely to question the value of their education."

Amid these doubts about the value of a college degree, nearly 40% of students surveyed said they had decided to embark on a new educational or career path during the COVID-19 pandemic, including those who had:

  • Changed their course of study (16%)
  • Changed their career plans (16%)
  • Changed institutions (7%)
  • Left higher education altogether (6%)

While some of this concern about the value of college might be due to remote learning during the pandemic, the price side of the equation seemed to be the bigger factor.

A similar survey conducted by the Princeton Review found that 98% of college applicants would need some sort of financial aid to pay for their education, with 82% saying it would be "extremely" or "very" necessary. However, Course Hero's findings show that only 18% of current students were receiving discounts on their tuition.

Most struggle to put food on the table

Beside looking at students’ satisfaction and future plans for education, Course Hero also examined the day-to-day difficulties they face.

The survey data showed that 60% of students needed help affording food and rent. And although questions about the value of higher education may be changing plans for some, the issue wasn’t even one of respondents’ top three concerns.

Indeed, the economic fallout from COVID-19 appeared to weigh heavily: Around 60% of students typically work full- or part-time in addition to attending classes, but 28% of them reported losing their jobs during the pandemic.

This was in line with an earlier survey by payments company Branch, which found that just over 59% of hourly workers experienced a reduction of their hours since the pandemic began.

Another problem was lack of aid: For example, many students did not qualify for either the first or second round of economic impact payments from the government.

In addition to paying for the basic necessities, respondents also identified affording computer equipment and WiFi access as a pain point. Other priority expenses that turned up in the Course Hero survey included:

  • Tuition
  • Bills
  • Car-related expenses
  • Essential travel
  • Childcare
  • Loans
  • Books

"These findings serve as a wake-up call when it comes to addressing the new majority of learners who are balancing their educational aspirations with work and family obligations," Course Hero CEO and co-founder Andrew Grauer said in a statement. "No student should need to decide between college and the cost of living."

Methodology: For this survey, Course Hero collected information through an email questionnaire from more than 11,000 full- and part-time college students between Feb. 16 and Feb. 22, 2021.

Feli Oliveros is a finance and business writer with experience covering personal finance, small business finance, and payment processing. In 2015 she graduated from UCLA, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in English and minored in Anthropology.