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Campus Life Spotlight: Student finances
As the semester is coming to a close, it is important for all of us to remember that a good portion of our students are struggling on not only how to survive their finals, but also how to financially survive the remainder of the year. There are three important realities to remember with student finances: awareness of the issue itself, what resources exist on campus, and how to help student manage their funds for the next two weeks.
UW-Superior is not unique in the sense that we have a lot of students coming to campus with high financial need. We are unique in the sense that we enroll the highest percentage of students using Pell Grants in the UW System (a grant that is reserved for students who come from low-income households); over 1/3 of our campus. Our unique geographic and demographic population on campus also yields a number of students who either need to work full-time as there are financially independent from their families, or students with families whom they need to support.
With recent changes in Wisconsin politics, legislature, and the economy, many students are finding themselves in very difficult situations: supporting family members at home, family members losing jobs, assistance programs being shutdown, and more. For some students, that means taking the next two weeks to figure out if continuing in college is the best financial decision for them, or how to keep themselves afloat.
Student financial issues can show themselves in a variety of ways: classroom behavior, asking for extensions on assignments, disrupted sleep or eating cycles, reclusion from social circles, and increased substance use.
Resources on Campus
If you've noticed a student who is struggling financially, it is important to be aware of resources that exist on campus. The number one place a student should be directed to is the Financial Aid Office. Sometimes, students have not accepted all of the loans they qualify for, or are not aware of the additional loans that are available. There many be confusion amongst students and family members about financial aid. The staff in the Financial Aid Office should be the first stop for all students.
On the opposite end, it is also important for students to understand that there may be financial penalties for their actions. Often, students will think cancelling a housing or meal plan, or being late on a payment has little consequence. On the contrary, there can be cancellation charges and penalties up to $500 for such actions. The perceived "path of least resistance" can often times make the financial situation worse for students.
When a student is struggling, it is important to make sure that they are in contact with the right people on campus. A visit to Dean of Students, can help set students in the right direction for resolving their financial crises. Vicki is at times able to assist students in connecting with various offices to establish payment plans, emergency assistance, and other help as needed. Lastly, there is limited emergency funding available from the Student Government Association that students can seek.
Stretching the Dollar
Although there are offices and specialists on campus that can help ease financial burden or help solve problems, there is generalist advice and assistance that all of us can provide students. Oddly enough, it is merely about helping students identify ways in which to stretch their dollar and maximize value for what they have money invested in already.
Meal plan utilization is one of the largest areas of assistance that students can seek. Many students underutilize their meal plan in huge ways; eating off campus too much, order take out, etc when they already have a meal plan that affords them meals daily. The Yellowjacket Union Café is open daily from 7:30 a.m. - 10:00 p.m. during the week, and the retail options offer similar hours. Students eating in the Café have all your care to eat options, and can take a piece of fruit or cookie for a snack midday.
Student fees pay for thousands of dollars of entertainment on campus each semester; encourage students to use and enjoy it! Yellowjacket Activities Crew (YAC) puts on weekly entertainment activities, contests, and more for no cost to all UWS students. There are also music options, such as Jazz Lunch, and residence hall programming each week that students can enjoy free of cost and keep them on campus.
Other free services students can enjoy are the Marcovich Wellness Center, of which every UW-Superior student has a free membership. The MWC is open early to late, and all students can use the facilities to work out, life weights, walk, shoot hoops, and more! At the end of the semester, physical workouts can help alleviate a lot of stress. For students who need more assistance, Student Health and Counseling Services are available free to every UW-Superior student.
The Bottom Line
Many of our students are struggling at this time of the year, whether it be with academic stress, homesickness, holiday pressures or more. But, financial stress and crisis comes at a much higher price to all students. Not knowing how to pay a bill, or if staying in college is a possibility circumvents all other stresses and it is important for all of us to know how to assist this students.