As inflation continues to climb, today’s “broke college students” find themselves broker than their predecessors, according to a study conducted by Move.org.
The average cost of living has gone up by an average of 13% from 2021-2022, according to the study. The study also found that gas alone increased by 48% in the same year.
The average cost of groceries has increased by nearly 15% since 2020, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture predict prices to rise by another 5-6% from when the study was published in 2022.
As rent, grocery prices and tuition continue to increase, some students at Westminster University said they experience first-hand the impact inflation has on their college experience.
Inflation impacts the student experience
Inflation is pushing students at Westminster to sacrifice study time and social outings in exchange for working more and spending less, according to Emily Krieser, a senior psychology major.
“I’ve definitely had to stretch myself a little thin with my work hours, just to, like, pay for food, rent, classes, all that stuff,” Krieser said. “It has affected my school in negative ways.”
In addition to working more, Krieser said she also sacrifices in other areas. She and her husband, Ben Snarr, a junior studio art major, said they make a nearly two-hour round trip commute to the university.
“I can’t live on campus anymore just because it’s getting too expensive,” Krieser said. “And even living near campus, it’s just, rent out here is crazy.”
Krieser said she and her husband coordinate their school and work schedules to save on gas.
“[Inflation has] kind of taken away from the social part of my life, just because I feel like I have to work more,” Krieser said. “People ask me to go to events or something and I can’t because I’m working or it’s too much money.”
Other students said they fear inflation will have longer-term impacts on students, especially non-traditional students and those from historically excluded backgrounds.
John Pound, a sophomore social justice major and father of four who recently started his college career at Westminster after more than two decades away from school, said he thinks inflation is widening the gap between low-income students and higher education.
“Inflation and the rising cost of goods and services to students is only highlighting economic wealth disparity in our society in general,” Pound said. “You’ll find less and less working-class students in school if we keep this shit up.”
Pound said during his first year at Westminster he experienced first-hand the impact financial instability can have on health and the student experience.
“My first year here I spent under so much economic stress,” Pound said. “The financial stress triggered a full-blown mental health crisis. I mean, this is real. This is real life shit.”
Pound contrasts his past financial situation to that of this year.
“This year I have no stress. Nothing has changed other than my economic situation is different this year and I’m infinitely happier,” Pound said. “One of the most marked differences is that I’ve actually been able to spend time studying, instead of time worrying.”
Han Kim, a public health professor who has taught at Westminster for 15 years, said inflation has a variety of negative effects on student health, and consequently, the college experience.
“[Inflation] is going to push a lot of people over the edge, and it’s a serious public health issue,” Kim said. “Students that are already stressed out are stressing out more. No one learns when you’re stressed out about feeding yourself and housing yourself, and then on top of that having assignments due.”
Kim said he hopes to help students have a better learning experience by adopting a teaching style that reduces student stress.
“We need to break out of this paradigm that says ‘more stress means more learning.’ That’s bullshit. It really is,” Kim said. “What I’d like to do is make it less stressful for students, recognizing that it is much tougher now given the economic situation.”
On-campus resources to help ease the burden
Westminster has a variety of resources, designed to help ease the burden of financial stress on students, according to Kim.
“That’s the thing about Westminster. I think there’s a lot of folks who are willing to help,” Kim said. “If you’re having trouble with housing or so on, talk to financial aid or accounting. They can help you.”
Kim also pointed out the Purple Basket, which is a free pantry for students and members of the Westminster community.
“It’s stocked with food and resources that students might need,” Kim said. “If you ever need help, it’s there. No judgment, no shame. We all need help sometimes.”
Kim said he encourages students who may be struggling to pay for tuition to talk to the Financial Aid Office.
“Talk to financial aid if you’re having problems with tuition,” Kim said. “They can help you find emergency resources because we want you to stay in school, so we’re going to fight like hell to keep you in school.”
The university also offers scholarships, grants and need-based aid to new and continuing students.
Students who need more financial aid can file one of three appeals with the Financial Aid Office, located in Bamberger Hall, according to the Financial Aid Appeals page on the university’s website.
- Students can file a financial aid appeal, which is a request for additional funds from Westminster to help cover the cost of tuition in warranted situations, such as a change in housing situations, according to the webpage. These funds are typically awarded in the form of institutional grants, but Westminster will also check to see if a student qualifies for grants or subsidized loans from the federal government, as stated on the financial aid appeal form.
- A special circumstances appeal allows the financial aid office to recalculate the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Special circumstances refer to major life changes that impact a student’s income, such as income reduction, death of a parent or spouse or overwhelming healthcare expenses. The webpage gives further details about what circumstances can and cannot be taken into consideration for this type of appeal.
- The third appeal students can file is the cost of attendance appeal. The cost of attendance appeal allows the Financial Aid Office to make an adjustment to the student’s cost of attendance. “The Financial Aid Office is sensitive to the financial challenges that students face; however, to comply with federal rules and regulations we can only consider direct costs necessary in supporting the student’s education,” according to the webpage.
To file an appeal, students must fill out the appropriate form. Once the form is submitted, it will be reviewed and the appeal committee will email a decision within one week, according to the financial aid appeal form.
“All the faculty and staff here want to help,” said Han Kim, a public health professor. “We need to destigmatize asking for help. It won’t change overnight, but we’ll start to see changes and it starts in places like here.”
John Pound, a sophomore social justice major, agrees with Kim that Westminster is a place they can rely on for help in times of need.
“Westminster is a very caring organization,” Pound said. “This place tries, it really does. And it tries with compassion and care.”