By Katie Horneffer, Intern, Care4Carolina
As the cost of college attendance continues to rise, many college students struggle to make ends meet. The average annual in-state tuition rate at North Carolina community colleges is $2,500; for four-year colleges, it’s nearly $19,000. Despite working long hours outside of class to afford tuition and living expenses, many students may not have enough extra savings on hand to pay for a health emergency, like a hospital or urgent care visit. Closing the coverage gap can help address these financial stresses, allowing students to focus more on their education and improving academic outcomes and earnings for NC students.
In states that have closed their coverage gaps, college students are more likely to have health insurance. The proportion of college students with healthcare coverage is 3.4 percentage points higher in states that have closed their coverage gaps compared to those that haven’t. With coverage, college students have better access to preventive screenings, mental health treatment, vaccines, reproductive healthcare, and prescriptions.
The impact of these gains in coverage goes beyond just improved health outcomes: states that have closed their coverage gaps have seen a positive impact on educational outcomes for college students. These states have higher community college enrollment, higher community college graduation rates, and higher four-year college graduate rates. Community college students in these states are also more likely to transfer to a four-year college, which increases their potential for higher earnings later in life.
Why would access to affordable health insurance help college students do better in school? First, closing the coverage gap increases financial stability among lower-income students. Students don’t have to make tough choices between paying tuition and paying a healthcare bill. They can also work fewer hours and still make ends meet, meaning they have more time to focus on their academics. Second, with health insurance, college students can better manage any chronic conditions or mental health concerns that might interfere with their ability to succeed in school.
The impacts of closing the gap go beyond just college outcomes—high schoolers, too, do better academically. In fact, one study found that, if all states that haven’t yet closed their coverage gap did so, the number of high school dropouts in these states would drop by 11.2%. This makes sense considering the important impact that family financial stability has on youths’ access to resources and ability to thrive in school. Furthermore, healthier parents, who aren’t struggling with ongoing health concerns, have more capacity to spend time with their children and support them academically. By improving the financial security and health of low-income families, closing the coverage gap would help North Carolina’s high schoolers succeed.
Education is a critical predictor of future health, income, and job security. Closing the coverage gap would have impacts that extend far beyond immediate improvements in health and financial stability: it would also have long-term effects on the well-being of North Carolinians for decades to come. By closing the coverage gap now, we can support North Carolina’s students in their educational achievements as they lay the path for a brighter future.