New Report Details Community College Strategies to Support Students’ Financial Wellness

June 1, 2020

Community college students face a number of financial decisions and obligations along the path to degree completion. Bridging Financial Wellness and Student Success: Effective Models for Community Colleges demonstrates holistic supports for financial aid and education that can fortify students’ success during and after completion of college.

The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), with support from The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian Life), today released a white paper detailing how community colleges can support students’ financial wellness by providing access to holistic financial aid and financial education support services.

“A student’s financial wellness and literacy are key to their success while enrolled, and after graduation,” said ACCT President and CEO J. Noah Brown. “The current coronavirus crisis has emphasized the importance of ensuring students’ financial well-being as current and former students struggle to navigate the turbulent financial waters before them. Community college and government leaders have an opportunity to ensure that students have access to sufficient financial resources and are well-equipped to make educational decisions.”

Community college students’ significant financial obligations include academic expenses such as tuition and fees, as well as living expenses that may include housing, food, transportation, and childcare. Yet many students need better access to aid and educational resources and may be at risk of dropping out of college in their absence. Colleges serve a key role in ensuring that students have access to necessary federal, state, and institutional aid and providing clear, timely information to support their financial decision-making. As an example of an effective community college model for supporting students’ financial wellness, this report details the Guardian Money Management for Life program and analyzes the outcomes of students who participate in the program at three community colleges: The University of the District of Columbia Community College; Berkshire Community College (Mass.); and Capital Community College (Conn.).

Major takeaways from the report include:

  1. Community college students’ expenses often exceed available grant aid. Community college tuition is known for being relatively affordable; however, the cost of tuition and living expenses is typically greater than the amount of their available resources and grant aid. Sufficient federal and state financial aid resources are necessary to meet students’ financial needs. Colleges can also support students with financial aid interventions such as emergency grant aid, institutional balance forgiveness, and improved financial aid information.
  2. Financial education can be critical for students as they navigate the complex nature of college financing and personal expenses; however, education about finances is not a replacement for financial aid resources. Financial education combined with sufficient aid can help empower students to make complex financial decisions associated with attending college. To provide relevant financial education, community colleges must consider the varied skill sets and knowledge held by their students.
  3. This report highlights the Guardian Money Management for Life Program as a financial empowerment model for community colleges. Among students who participated in the course from 2015 to 2019, 75% report having a better understanding of personal financial management. Recognizing that when students’ basic financial needs are met, they are more likely to succeed academically, several Guardian Life partner colleges have evolved the personal finance course to a holistic financial wellness model. Notably, these colleges are moving toward developing or expanding one-stop financial empowerment centers where students receive resources for financial education, aid, and career development.

“We want students to be prepared by having a financial plan that not only creates a roadmap for short-term and long-term goals, but also equips them with the ability to withstand unexpected emergencies,” said Veena Jayadeva, Director, Corporate Social Responsibility at Guardian Life. “Our focus on financial empowerment integrates our philanthropic investments into 10 community colleges across the country, allowing us to work in lock-step with administrators to help students with their overall financial health.”


David Conner