In late 2021, the US experienced the largest inflation rate in over 30 years. Rising costs of living affect everyone, but many college students, who primarily live on low incomes, are especially vulnerable to inflation. Some colleges have measures in place to ensure that their student populations are insulated from the worst impacts of inflation. Others have been quick to implement programs that ensure that college students can offset higher living expenses. This ranking is going to highlight 30 colleges helping students manage finances in these ways.
The US government is attempting to ease the pressures of inflation with a number of measures. However, any solution will take time to become effective. Because of this, schools have a responsibility to support their college students through a difficult economic landscape. There are only some colleges helping students manage finances. Identifying these colleges can be difficult. That is why this ranking exists. We have done the research so that you don’t have to.
In compiling this list of colleges helping students manage finances, we have analyzed a number of measures that schools have implemented to ensure that college students cope with inflation. These primarily include financial support, but they also stretch to other forms of support, such as increased mental health services. This is due to the fact that economic insecurity can affect many college students in ways other than the ability to pay bills and purchase essential items. Worrying about affordability can impact a student’s ability to succeed academically. Therefore, it is essential that colleges address inflation’s mental impacts as much as its physical impacts.
Any one of the 30 schools ahead is a strong choice for a college student who wants to attend a school that supports them through difficult economic circumstances. But it’s also possible that none of the colleges ahead are right for you. If this is the case, then this ranking can still be a vital resource for your college search. Each entry includes a summary of what the college is doing to ensure that its students are able to cope during a time of high inflation. These have been included for you to compare and contrast with your own college options. If any school that you’re considering is supporting college students like the 30 colleges ahead, then that’s a strong sign that it’s a college worth attending.
Sources for this ranking all document schools that are supporting college students. The majority of them were published in 2021 to ensure that the research was still valid in the present day. However, once we identified colleges from these sources, we then conducted further research to ensure that the schools were indeed offering a range of support for college students who were struggling to cope with rising costs. The full list of sources appears at the bottom of the article.
The ranking criteria for the following colleges are as follows: evidence of the college having/implementing financial inflationary safeguards for students in place, evidence of the college supporting students in innovative ways, and combined ranking on the methodology lists.
Our ranking, from 30 to one, is here:
30. Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, New York
For the 2021 fall semester, Vassar College’s Engaged Pluralism Initiative expanded a project that began before the pandemic. The Movement for Affordable Textbook makes sure that the college’s libraries purchase a number of copies of course textbooks. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation also praises Vassar College’s policy of keeping college student grant levels steady throughout the four years of study. PrepScholar notes that Vassar College’s financial aid is need-blind. College students from low-income families are supported with either no or limited student loans.
29. Belmont University
In late 2021, Belmont University stated that it was expanding its Bridges to Belmont program to support more college students than ever before. This program provides full scholarships to students from the college’s region who would otherwise not be able to pay for higher education. Belmont University’s director of counseling, Katherine Cornelius, has said to Inside Higher Ed that Belmont has looked at expanding mental health support to college students, even buying Therapy Assistance Online and TimelyCare. These two online platforms provide mental and physical health support their students.
28. University of Arkansas
A number of centers within the University of Arkansas are safeguarding college students during the present economic uncertainties and easing their worries about their financial future. Perhaps the most wide-ranging is the Student Success Center. For the fall 2021 semester, this center expanded, “its resources and programming to ensure all students have access to the opportunities they may need to thrive on campus.” Additionally, the Career Development Center gained over $550,000 in funding to add new positions focused upon creating more comprehensive career services. Some of the topics that this center is launching programming around can help college students with their finances in the present day, such as one that is focused upon entrepreneurship and the gig economy. CollegeBoard states that over the last five years, in-state tuition and fees have decreased slightly at the the University of Arkansas.
27. The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
New York City, New York
In early 2021, The Cooper Union announced that its tuition and fees would not be rising for the 2021-2022 academic year. At this time, the college also stated that it would continue to guarantee scholarships that cover at least 50% of tuition to all college students. The college has also reinstated the engineering alumni-student career mentoring program to ensure that college students are able to secure career-related employment after graduation. Inside Higher Ed notes that Cooper Union has also created an app, Cooper Care, which provides students with 24-7 access to virtual healthcare providers.
26. Culver-Stockton College
In the summer of 2021, Culver Stockton College announced a new program that would make education significantly more affordable for students who had taken a break in studies due to the pandemic. This program, the College Restart program, pays for half of an applicable student’s tuition, helping them save money and ease their worries about their financial future. Since this announcement, Culver-Stockton has secured further funding to support its college students. For instance, in November, it received a $1 million gift to provide enhanced first-generation student scholarships reducing the need for student loans. Jack Kent Cooke Foundation uses Culver Stockton College as an example of an institution that provides students with a long-term estimate of college costs.
25. University of Nebraska – Lincoln
The entire University of Nebraska system has frozen tuition for the 2021/2022 academic year. In addition to this freeze, the college system also stated that it would be investing in a number of strategic priorities, including student aid. These investments are being made via the college system reallocating $43 million of its budget. Earlier in 2021, the college system managed to secure funding from the state government to support students in a number of ways, such as through providing an additional $1 million for the Nebraska Opportunity Grant program which decreases the need for student loans. CollegeBoard notes that the University of Nebraska, Lincoln’s five-year tuition and fees have not increased for in-state students.
24. Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
In the early days of the pandemic, Cornell University reaffirmed its commitment to supporting students financially. This commitment is continuing into the 2022 fiscal year. In April 2021, the college announced that its tuition increase was of the lowest percentage in 55 years, at 2.9% for its endowed and contract colleges. The college also announced that for most students, this increase would be offset by an increase in financial aid. Additionally, the college announced that it would cover the cost of attendance without loans for students from families who earned less than $60,000. The loan amount for students from families who earned up to $85,000 a year was capped at $2,500. And the loan amount for students from families that earned up to $135,000 was capped at $5,000. And to support students emotionally during a difficult time, the college has remodeled its Empathy Assistance and Referral Service to include increased peer mentoring, training, and outreach. PrepScholar highlights Cornell University for providing strong financial aid.
23. Morgan State University
Thanks to a new partnership that Morgan State University formed with the organization Modern States in 2021, the college has been able to expand its access to more Maryland students than ever before. This partnership is the first stage in the Modern States providing, “at least 10,000 free online college courses and credit-bearing exams to prospective students.” It also aims to save $10 million in tuition and expenses for HBCU students, which goes a long way to help reduce worries about their financial future. Since this announcement, Morgan State has formed other connections that help college students with career prospects. For example, in November 2021, the college formed a partnership with the National Football League that would provide expanded access and opportunities within sports, FinTech, and similar industries. Inside Higher Ed notes that Morgan State University is also expanding its mental health support to any student who needs it.
22. Austin Peay State University
In November 2020, Austin Peay State University launched the “What if” fundraising campaign to create a number of student success initiatives. At this time, the school also stated that scholarships and funds of excellence would play an elevated role in college student success and reduce the need for student loans. The college aimed to raise $65 million by December 31st, 2021. Instead, it reached this figure by April 2021. InsideTrack also notes that Austin Peay State University has been successful in keeping costs low by streamlining its math education.
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20. Colby College
Thanks to two major monetary gifts in 2021, Colby College has been able to expand its financial aid offerings. The first gift totaled $2.8 million and was announced in April. The second gift totaled $7 million and was announced in October. Both of which can help students avoid high-interest student loans. Prior to this, the college was successful in gaining further funding that will benefit students during uncertain economic times. For instance, in late 2020, the college stated that it had surpassed $563 million in fundraising for its Dare Northward campaign. This money will go into a range of initiatives, including a strategic campaign to help recent graduates find jobs in a challenging market. PrepScholar considers Colby College to have one of the best financial aid programs in America.
19. University at Buffalo The State University of New York
Buffalo, New York
To ensure that students who are struggling to access food are provided for, the University at Buffalo The State University of New York has launched a food pantry named Blue Table. This service works through college students using an online order form and later picking up their selected items in person. Inside Higher Ed also notes that the entire State University of New York system has directed 5% of its coronavirus relief funding to expand student mental health support. CollegeBoard notes that the college has only raised its in-state tuition rates by a small amount over the last five years.
18. Penn State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
In September 2021, Penn State University announced a number of enhancements to its support for college students who needed housing and food assistance. Some of these enhancements include piloting a college student success grant that provides room and board funding, a continued partnership with Swipe Out Hunger, implementing cold and frozen food storage into on-campus food pantries, expanding on-campus locations that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, and more. CollegeBoard notes that Penn State University’s tuition and fees for in-state students have decreased as a percentage over the last five years. InsideTrack notes that the college has made one-on-one coaching available to students, which includes advice on financial challenge management which goes a long way to helping students with money management and understanding and modifying their spending habits.
17. Davidson College
Davidson, North Carolina
Students who are struggling to cope financially at Davidson College are able to access Lula Bell’s Resource Center. This center helps students with money management by providing any college student who needs food, hygiene products, business clothing, winter clothing, academic resources, cooking equipment, and more. During the pandemic, the school’s Office of Admission and Financial Aid also launched a free program to help prospective college students access financial aid and identify other essential steps in accessing college. US News notes that Davidson College’s financial need payments to students do not involve loans. PrepScholar states that 51% of students get need-based aid.
16. University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
In 2021, the University of Michigan extended its Go Blue Guarantee, which provides free tuition for students from Michigan families who have incomes of $65,000 or less and assets of $50,000 or less, to all of its campuses. The college also announced that its financial aid budget was increasing by 6.4%, which equated to $15.5 million. This can go a long way to easing worries about their financial future. US News highlights the University of Michigan for meeting college student financial-need without student loans which reduce student debt. CollegeBoard notes that the college’s in-state tuition and fees cost percentage has remained flat for five years.
15. University of California, Berkeley
One of the most impressive initiatives that can ease inflationary worries among the University of California, Berkeley’s students is its commitment to provide all of its housing below market value. The college also has a wide range of financial support options, with aid often being catered to students of specific backgrounds and/or with specific aims. For example, the LCOEBH Stipend Based Training Program awards $10,000 to Latinx students who complete an internship in a behavioral health agency that helps the Latinx community. Jack Kent Cooke Foundation praises the University of California, Berkeley for its online financial aid-focused videos. InsideTrack notes that Berkeley has successfully used the Schools App to ensure that college students can form creative, supportive bonds with one another. CollegeBoard notes that the in-state tuition rates at the college have decreased over the last five years.
14. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The entire University of Illinois system is seeing an 11% increase in scholarship and financial aid funding in the 2021 to 2022 fiscal year. This represents a $45.6 million increase overall. The University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign has also allowed any college student whose family has seen a loss of income due to the pandemic to have their level of financial aid re-evaluated helping to secure a more stable financial future and reduce the need for student loans. PrepScholar notes that Illinois residents who come from families that make $67,100 or less may be eligible for free tuition and campus fees. CollegeBoard states that the costs of in-state tuition and fees of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have decreased slightly over the last five years, helping to reduce student debt.
13. Stanford University
In September 2021, Stanford University introduced two new programs to help college student parents pay for childcare. These were a tuition reduction program per child enrolled in on-site child care and a tuition assistance program. And in early 2021, the college announced that it was expanding its financial aid for the 2021-2022 academic year, with the threshold for students not having to pay for tuition, room, or board expanding to those from families with incomes below $75,000. Previously, the threshold was $65,000. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, US News, and PrepScholar highlight Stanford University for its need-based grant policy.
12. Stony Brook University The State University of New York
Stony Brook, New York
For the 2022 financial year, Stony Brook University The State University of New York launched the Strategic Budget Initiative, which saw hundreds of faculty and staff members work to ensure that the college could, “operate as efficiently as possible and to find alternative revenue sources.” The college has since implemented measures to increase the support that financially insecure students can access. One example is the alumni-funded Jeffrey R. and Maureen L. Fox Fund for Education Opportunity, which pays for course books, supplies, study abroad opportunities, graduate school application fees, food, and housing which reduces student debt significantly. Similarly, the college has also announced a $.6.4 million expansion of its Educational Opportunity Program, which includes the establishment of the Student Persistence Fund, which awards students up to $2,000 which can reduce the cost of student loans. Inside Higher Ed notes that the entire State University of New York system is using 5% of its coronavirus relief funding to expand mental health support. Jack Kent Cooke Foundation praises the college’s financial aid YouTube resource programming.
11. University of Virginia
In April 2021, the University of Virginia announced that its undergraduate tuition was not rising in the 2021/2022 academic year. The college also has a number of options to help students remain financially afloat, such as peer financial counseling, the Hoo Needs Help financial support network, and an emergency fund that offers a $500 loan that is interest-free and has no fees if it is paid back before the last day of the month after the loan was taken out (it only has a $10 fee after this time). Inside Higher Ed notes that the college is creating a hybrid in-person/virtual counseling service. CollegeBoard notes that the University of Virginia’s in-state tuition rates and fees have slightly decreased over the last five years.
10. The University of Chicago
In August 2021, The University of Chicago announced that it was, “launching, a new $200 million commitment to educational access and financial aid. Additionally, if a student is experiencing financial difficulties due to a loss/reduction in employment/income, excessive medical expenses, or the artificial inflation of income, then they can file a special circumstance appeal to gain further financial aid. US News notes that The University of Chicago’s financial-need awards does not involve student loans. PrepScholar highlights that The University of Chicago provides free tuition to students with family incomes under $125,000.
9. Wayne State University
In June 2021, Wayne State University announced that its financial aid budget had increased to almost $100 million. Since this time, a number of other initiatives have been introduced to help ease student financial burdens and reduce the need for high-interest student loans. For instance, in August, the college was awarded $350,000 from the Kresge Foundation for the specific purpose of helping students who had stopped their education due to financial or life challenges to return to college. Similarly, the college has made transportation significantly easier for its students and employees by forming partnerships with four companies within Detroit to provide free commuting opportunities. Also in 2021, the college has expanded its campus health center student services. Jack Kent Cooke Foundation highlights Wayne State University as a college that makes an effort to contact students regarding financial aid opportunities.
8. Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey
Early in the pandemic, Princeton University stated that to ease economic uncertainties it was, “committed to increasing the University’s financial aid budget.” It also stated that it had also eliminated its residential college fee for all students. Thanks to this response, 62% of the college’s incoming freshmen in the 2021 fall semester qualified for financial aid. The college also supported both students and the local economy in spring, 2021, by distributing $171,401 to local businesses to provide students with food, beverages, products, and events. US News notes that Princeton University meets student’s needs without student loans. PrepScholar notes that the average grant from the college covers 100% of tuition.
7. Bowdoin College
In April 2021, Bowdoin College announced that its student aid budget had increased by $3.5 million. With this money, the college is eliminating its summer work expectation for students from families with incomes of under $75,000. Instead of participating in this work requirement, applicable students will instead receive a grant. The college has also helped students who want to work by employing them as learning assistants. Since this employment program began during the early days of the pandemic, it has expanded to almost 200 students. US News praises Bowdoin College for its no-loan policy toward financial aid. PrepScholar notes that nearly half of the college’s students receive grant assistance.
6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Thanks to an unexpectedly strong endowment performance, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology stated in October 2021, that it was able to provide greater support for its students. The primary beneficiaries of this support will be graduate students, who are facing rising housing costs. Even before this news was announced, the college had already increased its overall financial aid. In March, the college announced that its financial aid budget had risen from $147 million to $155 million. The college also recently partnered with the company iGrad to offer a financial literacy platform to its counseling resources, which can help students understand and modify their spending habits. US News notes that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s financial-need process is generous. PrepScholar notes that the financial-need process does not involve loans if a student’s family income is below $90,000.
5. Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island
In late 2021, Brown University announced that its financial aid and college access efforts would be significantly expanding thanks to successful fundraising efforts and strong endowment performance. This expansion adds $25 million to the annual financial aid budget and means that Brown will now cover the full tuition of students who come from a household that earns $125,000 or less. The college also announced that its admissions and financial aid policies would become fully need-blind for international students. US News praises Brown University for its no-loan financial need policies. PrepScholar notes that the average need-based award for 2022 graduating students was $50,108.
4. Amherst College
In October 2021, Amherst College announced that its financial aid investment had increased to $71 million. With this money, the college believes that it will make its education more accessible to middle-income families, as the college will now be able to provide full scholarships for students from households making $141,000 or less. And since the fall of 2020, the college has maintained a student emergency fund, which helps students pays for medical expenses, essential education materials, and unexpected emergency circumstance costs. US News praises Amherst College’s generous financial aid policy. PrepScholar notes that 75% of the class of 2020 graduated with no student loan debt.
3. Northwestern University
In June 2021, Northwestern University announced that its financial aid offerings for students would increase by 8% in the 2021-2022 academic year. This increase has allowed the college to expand its support to students from middle-income families. The college also offers a number of other programs that help students who are struggling financially, such as the Books for Cats program, which allows students to borrow course materials from Barnes and Noble and the college’s chemistry department, and the winter gear program, which provides students with winter clothing. Inside Higher Ed consults with Northwestern University’s director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies, who discusses the advantages of telehealth counseling. Jack Kent Cooke Foundation uses Northwestern University as an example of a college with a strong need-based grant program. PrepScholar praises Northwestern University for its loan-free financial aid packages.
2. University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland
In November 2021, the University of Maryland’s Fearless Ideas fundraising campaign reached its $1.5 billion goal. This money will go into a range of areas, but over $334 million is directly going into student support initiatives, including the launch of 869 new scholarships. Prior to this funding goal, the college had been successful in supporting students who were struggling financially due to the pandemic. For example, in December 2020, the college’s Student Government Association announced that it had allocated over $400,000 to support student services, with $300,000 of this sum going into a student crisis fund. InsideTrack notes that the University of Maryland had previously been able to reduce costs by improving the way it delivers math education. CollegeBoard notes that the college’s in-state tuition and fees had slightly decreased over the previous five years.
1. Columbia University
New York City, New York
In April 2021, Columbia University launched the Student Support Initiative. This initiative aims to raise $1.4 billion in student financial assistance by the year 2025. Later in 2021, this initiative had been successful in gaining funding. For instance, in October, the college announced that thanks to the strong performance of its endowment, it was directing $60 million in matching funds into this initiative. US News praises Columbia University for its no-loan financial aid policy. InsideTrack notes that Columbia University’s students are able to access one-on-one coaching that helps them manage financial challenges and control spending habits. PrepScholar praises how the college’s financial aid is tailored so that students who come from families that make less than $60,000 per year do not need to rely on parental support.
- CollegeBoard, Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2021
- Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Making College Affordable: Providing Low-Income Students with the Knowledge and Resources Needed to Pay for College
- PrepScholar, The 36 Colleges With the Best Financial Aid
- US News, Schools That Meet Full Financial Need With No Loans
- InsideTrack, Using Student Services to Enhance Outcomes and Reduce Costs
- Inside Higher Ed, Colleges Seek Virtual Mental Health Services
- Inside Higher Ed, New Mental Health Investments, Ongoing Uncertainties
- Colleges Benefiting From 2021’s Record Government Spending
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