Students Speak on Federal Student Aid & Job Readiness

NCLC released a report, 2015 Students Speak Report on Federal Student Aid & Job Readiness. Below is a recap of the findings and what student leaders can do from James Scimecca, NCLC policy fellow and one of the report’s authors.

By James Scimecca

As tuition bills rise and employers are seeking competitive, job-ready candidates, students across the country wonder if college is still worth the investment. A serious disconnect exists between academia and employers, making success seem harder to define and obtain. To bring success back to students, it is critical for student leaders to come together in an effort to tackle the issues of financial security and job readiness.

The National Campus Leadership Council (NCLC) surveyed student body presidents at more than 250 colleges and convened student and business leaders across the country to explore their perspectives on how policies can better promote college access, degree attainment, and job readiness. Our findings are clear: student leaders feel high college costs limit career development, and we need greater investment in federal financial aid to improve the situation. The majority of student body presidents believe that monthly student loan payments are the greatest threat to future financial success, and few feel that they are armed with the knowledge to really make a difference. Perhaps this is why just 1 in 4 student body presidents feels as though their concerns are heard at the federal level.

Student leaders, and student body presidents in particular, play an important role in the life of institutions of higher education, sitting at the intersection of the two most critical players in higher education policy—the student body and the institution itself. At a campus level, they contribute to institutional decision-making, often serving on committees and advising institution officials on student needs. As well, they are intrinsically aware of the concerns, hopes, and frustrations of their peers.

Half of the student body presidents polled by NCLC believe their fellow students are “somewhat informed” about Pell, Stafford Loans, or Federal Work Study. When students begin adult life with lots of debt and little knowledge of how to pay it back, we shouldn’t be surprised that many of them feel stuck behind the eight ball.

Though student leaders tend to feel knowledgeable about the programs they personally use, they are under-informed about critical financial aid programs as a whole. Though 70 percent of student body presidents use some form of federal financial aid, just 17 percent feel knowledgeable about more than three programs. This knowledge gap inhibits many student leaders from being effective champions of college affordability and spreading needed information to their peers who need help navigating challenging college finances. We must take strides to equip student leaders with the knowledge necessary to help current and future students navigate rising college costs and the post-college repayment period.

Student leaders can be powerful partners in the quest to engage graduates and prepare them for the workforce. We can lower the debt burden and close the skills gap, but we need everyone in this together. Nine in ten business leaders who attended our job readiness roundtables felt they gained valuable insights from the students leaders. We need to bring these students’ ideas to all levels of decision making. We’ve already started that work with our National Affordability Working Group, and we hope you join us on the way.

Let’s get to work.

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