Financial need, debt structures and expectations: An exploratory and comparative study of low -income freshmen at a Catholic college

Virginia Bender, Fordham University


Low-income students, the fastest growing population of college-age students, have limited access to 4-year colleges. Private institutions, particularly Catholic colleges dedicated to social justice, can benefit from studies on affordability. Applying a variation of integrative models of financial aid research, this study considered payment structures as integral interactions with the institution. The research examined relationships between demographics, grant assistance, debt structures, and expectations during the initial enrollment of a sample of freshmen at an urban Catholic college. Debt structures included loans, cash, credit cards, and installments. Expectations, known to affect persistence rates, included financial concerns, academic performance, campus involvement, employment, satisfaction, and educational aspirations. Statistical analyses revealed several significant findings. Low-income students were more likely to be women, minorities, commuters, public school graduates, and children of non-college educated parents. Significant class-based differences emerged in payment choices. A higher percentage of low-income than not low-income students relied on student loans and depended less on parent loans. Over 800 of low-income students' debt after grants was paid through long-term (loans) and short-term (credit cards, installment payment plans, and specialized arrangements) financing. Despite significantly different backgrounds, the 2 income groups reported similar expectations for academic performance, campus involvement, aspirations, and satisfaction. Higher financial concerns were expected by low-income women, minorities, children of non-college-educated mothers, and commuters. Women also expressed higher expectations of working. Several significant relationships were identified between debt structures and expectations. Student loan borrowing contributed to expecting higher levels of financial concerns. Unexpectedly, parent borrowing correlated positively with student satisfaction; low-income students might expect diminished satisfaction due to less parental support via loans. An inverse relationship emerged between remaining costs after grant assistance and aspirations. Debt, even in freshman year, was associated with lower educational aspirations. The findings indicate the need for additional payment options and specialized debt counseling for low-income students who demonstrate class-based differences in managing college costs. While loans aided affordability, they also contributed to expectations of higher financial concerns. Support services may help to mitigate the negative effects of financial concerns on the positive academic and social expectations expressed by low-income students as they begin college.

Subject Area

Higher education|School finance

Recommended Citation

Bender, Virginia, "Financial need, debt structures and expectations: An exploratory and comparative study of low -income freshmen at a Catholic college" (2005). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3166561.