The men pleaded guilty to two charges of aggravated robbery and six charges of kidnapping. They face 20 years in prison when sentenced Dec. 27.
Andrew Butler, 20, a student at the University of Toledo, told Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Steve Martin on Monday that tuition increases outpaced his scholarships and financial aid.
Butler was a theater major, home for his summer break.
"He just really was struggling, working two jobs here, you know, temp jobs, two jobs and trying to get the money," said his mother, Franki Butler, said, CBS News affiliate WTOL-TV reported.
Christopher Avery, 22, a student at the University of Cincinnati, said he couldn't pay for summer classes after an internship at a grocery store fell through.
"I was strapped for cash," Avery said. "I thought I had nothing to lose."
A year at the University of Cincinnati costs about $9,400. It's nearly $7,000 at Toledo.
Armed with guns and wearing masks, Butler and Avery made off with $130,000 from a crowded Valley Central Savings Bank in suburban Reading on July 17, said Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Brian Goodyear.
An attempt to rob a check-cashing business a day earlier was thwarted when the students couldn't get through the business' security system despite firing four shots at the bullet-resistant glass, Goodyear said.
The men were caught after trying to switch cars. A witness who thought they were acting suspiciously called police.
Both were being held in a county jail without bond.