Providing students and their families with the skills and tools to understand personal finance and money management has largely fallen to colleges and universities. While fourteen states have enacted legislation mandating personal finance training in high school, more than two-thirds of the country still lacks any formal training or education programs for students or parents.
Many people don’t know where to turn for guidance or direction when they need assistance in completing a FAFSA to apply for financial aid, how to save for college or use payment plans to help finance an education, or even how to create a budget. Both traditional students and older adults returning to school often seek out resources to figure out how to pay for college and, later, to repay their student loans.
By default, colleges have become the last resort for acquiring this knowledge. Identifying and managing financial issues has become a key element in the recruitment and retention of students. Admissions recruiters, financial aid counselors, and student account representatives often are thrust into roles as financial counselors, even if their own knowledge is lacking. With a glut of available information on how to pay for a college education and limited resources to digest and disseminate the data, staff may be ill-equipped to offer time-consuming counseling to students and families while trying to deal with the other aspects of onboarding and maintaining enrollments.
Best practice institutions have developed separate offices to assist students with financial wellness education or have partnered with firms that provide web-based programs and knowledge-driven modules to help them learn the various aspects of personal finance, from student loans and credit cards to budgeting and credit scores.
Institutions need to have an executive sponsor for these programs and place ownership under a single office or group of individuals who will prioritize providing access to personal finance programs and resources.
If an institution does not want to create a separate department, financial wellness programs could be hosted by numerous departments, including but are not limited to financial aid, bursar or student financial services, enrollment management, career services, housing, new student orientation, and dean of students. Admissions, alumni relations and development offices help maximize program exposure and provide a value-added service for prospective and former students and interested parties.
Because students often are more comfortable talking with their peers, a program that incorporates trained student employees to share financial information can help build trust and confidence while also building a triage process to determine when counselors or other full-time staff need to handle more complex issues.
Providing a well-rounded education for today’s students requires a holistic approach to helping them achieve personal success, both now and tomorrow. Offering financial wellness resources will not only help students reach their personal goals – it also may give them the tools to pay their bills in full and on time!