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Unveiling Disparities

Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Gaps in Student Financial Insecurity and Proposed Solutions
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April 24, 2024

At a Glance

Jobs for the Future (JFF), in partnership with Trellis Strategies, analyzed Trellis’s 2022 Student Financial Wellness Survey of over 30,000 students from 89 schools in 23 states. Findings reveal significant financial insecurity gaps, particularly for students who are Black and Latine and women of all racial backgrounds, emphasizing the need for a multifaceted approach, including basic needs hubs, policy changes, and improved data collection.

Lois Joy Director
Umair Tarbhai Senior Analyst
Practices & Centers

Executive Summary

Key findings from this research show significant racial, ethnic, and gender post-secondary student financial insecurity gaps for Black and Latine students and students of all racial backgrounds who identify as women, compared to other groups across six different measures, including: needing assistance with food, housing, utilities, medical care, child care, and covering a $500 emergency. Financial insecurity across all measures and racial/ethnic groups was also higher for students who are parents.  We also found that across all racial, ethnic, and gender groups, students who relied on grants, scholarships, or loans to cover tuition faced more financial insecurity than students who paid tuition from personal or family income. In addition, the main methods for meeting unmet needs to pay for tuition—grants and loans—did not remedy student financial insecurity or close financial insecurity gaps.  Reliance on grants, scholarships, and student loans was associated with increased probabilities of financial insecurity.  Not only did loans not close financial insecurity gaps, but those students most likely to rely on loans (students who are Black and women of all racial backgrounds) were the least likely to feel they would be able to pay them off after college. 

Call to Action

Despite relying on grants and loans, financial stress remains pervasive. The call to action outlined in the report proposes a multifaceted approach: 

  • Student Basic Needs Centers: Establishing Basic Needs Centers on college campuses can streamline access to various forms of support, including financial aid, food, child care, and housing assistance. Strategies to increase utilization, such as non-stigmatizing nudges can foster student engagement.
  • Government Assistance Programs: Federal, state, and local governments must adapt assistance programs to meet the evolving needs of today’s diverse college population. Outdated rules and low uptake rates hinder access to vital resources like SNAP food assistance and housing support, exacerbating financial strain. 
  • Data Collection and Monitoring: Enhancing data collection efforts, particularly through annual institutional-level financial well-being data, can provide insights into student financial insecurity trends. This data can inform policy development, program evaluation, and efforts to address systemic inequities. 

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