For Cassidy Lunney, half of her life seemed picture perfect, while the other half seemed like it was falling out of the frame in the months leading up to college. Everything she was used to was about to change. Her parents were separating and the thought of going to college and growing up felt like a thunderstorm on the first day of summer vacation.
On one hand she was living the teenage dream by dating her first boyfriend and was just months away from going to fashion school. At the same time, she was crying constantly, having panic attacks every day, worrying about the future and struggling with how to deal with her emotions. Paying for nearly every college expense on her own, including tuition and a new MacBook was a daunting responsibility for the junior fashion studies student.
“I have to take out loans because I’m the only person with good credit in my family, and I will probably have to pay them back myself,” Lunney said. “My family isn’t in a good financial position to help me that much [and] I don’t get a lot of financial aid either for some reason, but every little bit that I do counts.”
Lunney is not alone in her struggles. She is just one of the many college students dealing with mental health issues because of money. At the Board of Trustees meeting last week, a handful of students showed up to voice their concerns about the possibility of tuition rising. One student in particular, junior international justice studies major named Heather Francis, spoke about the financial burden placed on students trying to pay for their education.
“One in five college students suffer from anxiety and depression,” Francis said, citing a recent study from the American College Health Association. “This is from homesickness, drugs, technology, but also the stress of how to pay for school and books.”
Many students are faced with some sort of stress throughout their college career. Whether it’s over getting good grades, making friends or building a resume, students always seem to have something to stress about. When it comes to finding a job at the end of it, hopefully they’ve put in enough hours of extracurricular activities and internships to make the last four or so years pay off.
Francis said that only students who are more privileged and do not need to support themselves while in school have the time to do things like get involved in extracurricular activities, study abroad in other countries or take an unpaid internship for experience, and that’s where the problem lies.
“We are placed in classroom settings to focus on needing to have a great resume, but we also need to pay for our loans to pay for our school,” Francis said.
The stress over paying back loans after graduation is a problem for many students who have to borrow money, including junior television and digital media major Emma Flusk.
“I try to tell myself that I am putting money into my future so I don’t cry over the amount of loans I am going to get smacked with six months after graduation,” Flusk said.
Her anxiety, like many other students, is the product of a crazy schedule, huge workload and financial situation that “totally sucks.” Although it’s become much easier to manage throughout the years, it caused her to neglect her physical health by losing sleep and dropping weight during her freshman year.
“I really don’t know how, but I have managed to keep good grades while balancing a job with school so far, but it’s been hard to do all the things I want to do on campus because it would always conflict with my work schedule,” Flusk said.
When it comes to internships, harm to mental health is just one of the problems that students face. Work, whether a part-time job or an internship, is demanding.
“Balancing school and work is very hard especially when your classes are two and a half to five hours long,” Lunney said. “A lot of internships and jobs require you to be there three full days a week, so there have been times when I’ve dropped or moved classes to fit [work] in instead.”
Fortunately, she has been able to manage her anxiety over the years.
“I am really happy to be at Montclair [State] and learning and thriving when I have myself in check,” Lunney said. “But when I don’t, school can be dreadful even though I thoroughly enjoy learning.”
Freshman visual communication design student Madison LoCascio-Seward has a hard time managing a paying job, homework and a social life all at once.
“The struggle of paying for my school and trying to get good grades and trying to have a normal life constantly weighs down on me and makes my anxiety and depression higher than usual,” LoCascio-Seward said. “ I don’t work that many hours a week, but I could have used that time to work on my assignments and make sure I put my best effort into my homework.”
While speaking at the Board of Trustees meeting, Francis said that lower tuition would allow her fellow students to have more time to focus on their education rather than worry about how to pay for college. The question of how to make college cheaper is one that might be easier said than done.
For the 2017-2018 school year, Montclair State University’s tuition and fees came out to $12,455, making it the third lowest in the state.
The board will officially decide on Montclair State’s tuition for the 2018-2019 school year at a meeting in July after the higher education budget is signed by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.
“Obviously it is a difficult challenge to find the best possible education and keep it affordable when the state is not providing adequate support, but we don’t take that challenge lightly,” said University President Susan Cole. “This board is deeply committed to providing an affordable education to our students.”