Hill Event Focuses on Financial Literacy, Successful College Programs

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff, and Charlotte Etier, Research Analyst

Representatives from the federal government and higher education institutions gathered on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to discuss ways to increase financial literacy among students.

The event, hosted by Northeastern University, focused on the need for college students to have a comprehensive understanding of financial management, which panelists said is critical to their success both during and after college. 

Panelist David Soo, senior advisor to the Department of Education’s (ED) Office of the Undersecretary, said that financial literacy among college students often is discussed in the context of making good choices about student debt and repayment. “But more broadly, it’s about ensuring college students are ready to enter the workforce and take control of their financial lives,” he said.

ED is largely looking to technology as a medium to increase its financial literacy efforts, Soo said, noting that technology “really has the potential to increase the reach of all the things we do in education, and certainly financial capability.”

Louisa Quittman, director of financial education in the Treasury Department’s Office of Consumer Policy, highlighted several efforts Treasury has undertaken, both on its own and in partnership with ED, to increase financial literacy among college students. One example is a project Treasury and ED worked on with the maker of the tax filing program TurboTax that send people to ED’s online student loan repayment estimator.

Treasury got involved with the project, Quittman said, because the department believes tax filing is “a key opportunity” for individuals to examine their personal finances, including their student debt and how best to manage it. The partnership with the maker of TurboTax is “a good example of how agencies can work together and with private sector partners to get innovative approaches to financial capability.”

Quittman outlined several key objectives for national financial literacy that the federal government is involved in, many of which were in alignment with the TG-NASFAA collaborative report “The Borrower Experience with Online Student Loan Exit Counseling” released in February which recommended changes to loan exit counseling include:

Practitioners:

  • Develop materials for borrowers that introduce and supplement the counseling
  • Deliver interim counseling and personalized loan information to enrolled borrowers
  • Select high-risk students for supplemental counseling, ideally in a face-to-face setting

Policymakers (Revise counseling statutes through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to):

  • Grant schools greater professional discretion to require supplemental counseling;
  • Explore incentives for schools that implement supplemental counseling programs;
  • Edit topic requirements to promote a more relevant, helpful experience; and
  • Explore requirements for intermediate counseling in some form.

Designers:

  • Include information filtering and skip logic based on borrower traits and actions
  • Utilize short, quick “slides” with a progress indicator instead of long pages
  • Lower the word density, word count, and required time through formatting, editing, and multimedia

TG will release a forthcoming study this week focused on loan entrance counseling that has similar recommendations.

Wednesday’s panel also featured representatives from two institutions – Northeastern University in Boston and Bellevue College in Bellevue, Washington – who shared the success of their campus financial literacy programs. 

Northeastern University Dean of Student Financial Services Anthony Erwin discussed the creation of his campus’ Center for Financial Independence, a student-led and –run program that provides peer counseling on a variety of financial management topics. Erwin, who is the current president of the Eastern Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said the goal of the center is to help students achieve financial literacy, which is defined by his institution as when a student independently and confidently manages their personal finances during college and beyond. 

“We really have taken the opportunity to engage with our students across the campus,” Erwin said, noting that in its first semester the center served a total of more than 600 students, including 250 in person.

Leslie Lum, interim dean of Continuing Education at Bellevue College, shared her institution’s efforts to help students form good financial habits instead of just providing them knowledge. While the school has seen some success with this effort, the key, Lum said, is to get students talking about how money-related issues make them feel and to work on breaking those barriers to help them make better decisions.

 

Publication Date: 4/29/2015


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