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Sunday, July 25, 2021
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Financial insecurity can impact students' success in the classroom. While UW-Madison offers resources to help, this issue can always use more attention and action to help create a level playing field.

Cardinal View: The impact of financial insecurity on academics; UW resources to help

As a low-income student, getting to college is enough of a financial hurdle, let alone facing a lack of accessible resources once arriving on campus. Despite the fact that the median family income for UW students is over $95 thousand a year, according to The New York Times, different offices and resources on campus have attempted to make themselves more readily available and inclusionary for students facing financial instability, as well as to help mitigate the academic and professional pressures associated with being a low-income student.

Among these pressures is making a seemingly responsible decision regarding major choice. STEM and Humanities majors each have their advantages but there is no denying the stereotype that STEM majors lead to better paying jobs. As college costs are on the rise, so is the pressure to make the most of money spent on a bachelor’s degree. According to a study conducted by The College Board, the cost of tuition and fees and room and board has risen 8.2 percent since 1988, adjusted for inflation. Low-income students feel the pressure more than most to make the most out of a college degree.

However, deciding on a major is not enough- that’s where the Center for Academic Excellence comes in. A resource specifically for students who, according to their website, “have been historically underrepresented in higher education, including first-generation and low-income students,” the CAE offers specific advising, peer mentors, tutoring, health and wellness events, graduate school preparation and other types of workshops. Programs such as The Academy of Learning Communities, or TALCO, which, according to their website, “strives to strengthen diversity in graduate, law, and health professions by creating pathways for students of low-income or traditionally underrepresented backgrounds,” provide students with unique opportunities in an attempt to level the playing field in these highly disparate industries.

The CAE is also partnered with the Center for Educational Opportunity to put on the Empowering You Conference, which was created to give students a launch pad to explore future graduate school programs or jobs, as well as prepare students to enter the workforce. This conference specifically targets “first-generation, low-income students, students of color, students from rural background, and students with documented disabilities” to ensure that these underrepresented communities feel comfortable while planning their future upward mobility, according to the CAE website.

Another resource on campus that is focused on academic and professional development is SuccessWorks, formerly known as L&S Career Services. SuccessWorks is not specifically for low-income students, like the CAE, but rather seeks to be accessible for all students as they move forward with their job or internship search. With resources such as their Career Closet, which allows students to take up to four articles of professional clothing per semester for free, and their internship class, which allows students to get class credit in conjunction with their internship, SuccessWorks attempts to minimize the burden of transitioning to the job market.

A program that Internship Coordinator Kathleen Rause finds especially helpful for low-income students is the SuccessWorks Summer Internship Scholarship, which awards students anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 to alleviate any financial stress related to accepting an offer for an unpaid or poorly compensated internship.

Rause also acknowledged how their office has tried to be intentional with planning their events, which are often based around skill-building, networking and learning more about specific career fields, to be more accessible and welcoming to students of all backgrounds.

"When we plan events, we need to think about underrepresented students as the people we are planning it for. If we plan an event for low-income students, and decide that they need a little extra help with networking or interviewing skills, it will still meet the needs of majority students,” said Rause. “If a high-income student comes, that’s cool, and the event is still for them too, but we have been able to meet some extra needs that we could’ve missed if we hadn't gone about this framing.”

Moving forward, UW and its partners should keep this same mentality in mind when creating new programming and resources, while also implementing such an attitude toward already existing academic resources that are not readily accommodating for low-income students. 

Cardinal View editorials represent The Daily Cardinal’s organizational opinion. Each editorial is crafted independent of news coverage. Has financial insecurity impacted your academic success at UW-Madison? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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