Credit cards, cigarettes woes at U
Although University of Minnesota students' sense of community is growing, credit card debt is getting them down and cigarette use is going up, a student life survey presented Thursday shows.
The survey of 800 students taken last spring shows that 26 percent of students carry a monthly credit card balance of more than $1,000. Almost half of those students owe more than $3,000 every month.
The survey also showed that 42 percent of university students had smoked in the previous month, compared with 37 percent of a sample of all 18- to 24-year-olds in Hennepin County.
Meanwhile, about 65 percent of students feel they have experienced a sense of community at the university, compared with a little more than 50 percent in 1996 and just more than 40 percent in 1991. To develop a sense of community for students, particularly freshmen, has been a goal of the university, said McKinley Boston, vice president for student development and athletics.
The information emerged in a report to the board of regents. It was the first time survey results on tobacco and credit card use were included. Officials who oversee matters of student well-being said they have begun to look at tobacco and credit cards because they often are tied to depression.
According to the survey, 65 percent of students feel worried or depressed.
College students have felt anxious for centuries, according to Dr. Edward P. Ehlinger, director and chief health officer for Boynton Health Services, which treats students.
``It's an ongoing concern,'' he said. ``But the tobacco data just jumped out at us.''
Ehlinger called the increase in smoking among students ``shocking.'' Because most studies indicate that people with more education are less likely to smoke, tobacco has not previously been considered an issue on campus, Ehlinger said.
Clearly some student smokers want to stop, Ehlinger said. Last spring a manufacturer donated $4 million worth of nicotine patches for smoking cessation to the university as a part of the tobacco settlement with the state of Minnesota. About 2,000 students snatched them up, Ehlinger said.
``Credit card debt and tobacco use are emerging issues for us,'' said Jane Canney, university assistant vice president for campus life.
Credit card debt is becoming an issue for college students nationwide. A survey released in June by the Consumer Federation of America said about 70 percent of 700 East Coast undergraduates questioned have at least one credit card. Another study by National Student Loan Surveys showed that from 1996 to 1997, the average credit-card debt among undergraduates rose from $1,879 to $2,226.
Canney said that student credit card debt is associated with higher tobacco use, higher alcohol use, lower grade point average, more hours of employment, academic probation and the use of medication for prevention.
The university is just beginning to delve into ways to address the tobacco and credit card issues, Canney said. The university will be working with the state Health Department and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota to figure out ways to help students address tobacco issues, she said.
Minnesota will also be talking with officials at other universities to address the credit card problem, Canney said.