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College students making changes to adapt to slow economy, Higher One survey shows

A new survey from campus financial services provider Higher One shows that many college students, in an attempt to adjust to the current economy, are changing their majors or considering graduate school to postpone having to enter the workforce.

According to the poll from the New Haven, Conn.-based company, more than 20% of students are looking at entering a different profession than they were before the economic downturn, and an additional 20% are considering attending graduate school as a direct result of the economy.

Students are also increasing their interest in learning about effective money management. More than 85% reported that they have changed the way they manage their finances in the last year.

“There is no doubt that the economy has impacted students’ financial management habits, and their new budgeting habits are a strong demonstration of their new outlook,” said Miles Lasater, chief operating officer and co-founder of Higher One. “A third of the students said they were spending less money, and nearly 40% are checking account balances more often than they used to.”

Despite the challenges the economy poses for students, many remain positive about their prospects, the survey shows. For example, 54% are confident that they will find a job within six months of graduating. Additionally, those with high confidence in their money management skills have a greater sense of assurance that they will find a job in that time period.

The survey also shows that 69% of students are confident or very confident in their own ability to manage money. That’s up from 67% of students the previous year. Nearly 90% of students regularly balance their finances and budget for future expenditures, 45% save at least five percent of their income, the same percentage as last year, and 86% rated financial management as somewhat or very important.

This was the second annual Higher One Financial Literacy Survey, which is conducted among current college and university students to determine how students manage their money.

Last year, more than 60% said that parents were the most important source for financial information, but this year students primarily turned to the Internet and professional sources. Students have also shifted their interest in learning about certain financial topics. Nearly 20% had a strong desire to learn more about establishing and maintaining credit.

“There has been a shift in how students see money. They used to view money management as unnecessary, but they have started to take a more responsible approach,” Lasater said.

Several colleges and universities have taken steps to meet the new demand for financial management information, while providing students with the professional sources for that information. For example, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Tex., has recently expanded a popular program designed to teach colleges students how to responsibly manage their money.

“Even prior to the economic downturn we saw an increased demand from students for courses on financial management,” said Kristy Vienne, a program director at Sam Houston State. “As the Higher One survey notes, schools and financial services companies alike can certainly help meet this new demand on a variety of levels, from courses to online and printed materials.”

The Higher One Survey was conducted among 464 students nationwide in April 2009. All the survey respondents are enrolled in four-year universities, community colleges or two-year vocational schools and all are Higher One clients.

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