Written By: Dean Obenauer, MPA, AFC®
Since the financial crisis of 2008, there has been a marked increase in financial education efforts at all levels, including K–12 education, college, employment, and in communities, which is all good. Up to that time, there was a lot of discussion about the need for financial education, but the financial crisis brought to the forefront that we need to do more than just talk about it. In a nutshell, the intent of financial education is to increase knowledge, build skills and change behaviors so that people can make good financial decisions for themselves and their households. There are mixed opinions as to the effectiveness of these education efforts which begs the question “Is financial education working?”
From my perspective at Creighton University, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Am I reaching every student? No. Am I reaching more students than we used to? Yes. Can we do more? Yes.
There is no one best approach or one size fits all, but realize that it is so important to just do something…
You may recall an article I wrote for The Standard way back in the 3rd quarter of 2011, where I described Creighton University’s approach to developing a financial literacy program. As a result of the financial crisis, a financial literacy position was created in the Financial Aid Office in 2010 primarily because the University believed financial education to be a value-added service that could benefit our students.
Although a financial education program can be housed in a variety of student service offices, we believed the Financial Aid Office was a good place to start with a marketing effort to educate and inform the entire campus on this new focus. There is a vast array of options to deliver financial education:
- Secure time on the freshman orientation schedule or part of the freshman year experience program
- Seminars and presentations
- Print pieces, Facebook posts, email blasts or blogs
- Online educational learning modules and other web resources
- Bring in outside speakers
- On campus personal confidential counseling
There is no one best approach or one size fits all, but realize that it is so important to just do something, anything to help students build confidence to make good financial decisions.
How is financial education working on campus? When a medical student made an appointment with me to review her budget to “make sure she was spending her money well,” I view that as a success! When a graduate stops in the office and
states “after listening to your presentation, my husband and I decided to lease a smaller, more economical car, so that it wouldn’t be such a big bite out of our budget,” I view that as a success! When an undergraduate student writes on the evaluation form “I need to do a better job tracking my expenses,” I view that as a success! After loan counseling sessions, when students tell me to cancel or reduce the amount of their student loan because they will attempt to be more frugal, I view that as a success! This is only a fraction of the feedback I receive.
My approach has been to focus on Money Management 101. One of the first research efforts I conducted on campus was a survey sent to undergraduate students following the same format as the Charles Schwab Young Adult survey. Using a financial fitness theme, I asked “How would you describe your financial health?” The responses were:
- 45%—I’m in good shape
- 46%—I’m a little flabby
- 9%—I’m in poor shape
Back to the original question “Does Financial Education Work?”
In my opinion, yes, yes it does!
Of the 25 percent of those undergraduates who responded, 55 percent reported they needed to tone up a bit. I am also betting that some of the students who said they were in good shape, most likely were not in as good of shape as they thought.
Much of the success on campus is a result of getting buy-in from university officials, staff, faculty, and student organization leaders. The primary means of delivery is through seminars and presentations. The best part of buy-in is that someone else is doing the marketing for me and in many cases, attendance is required. Faculty members will give up a class period for me to come in to discuss money management basics. Student organizations, such as sororities, will have me come in to do the same. This means evening sessions which sometimes are past my bedtime, but I will go where and when students want me. When conducting a basic money management workshop at the Law School, alumni were present to talk about responsible student loan borrowing and frugal living while in school. It left an impression when one alum said “I am more of an example of what not to do.”
Most of my individual counseling sessions are a result of students attending a prior presentation. Rarely do I see students who are maxed out on credit cards or over extended with their budget. At most appointments, students are requesting basic advice because they want to avoid making a mistake. To offer additional resources, I have developed a relevant and friendly web page for students to access information on their own timeframe. The Human Resources department also promotes this web page to staff as part of the financial wellness campaign. Students, parents and staff are appreciative of available resources and knowing where and whom to go to for help.
Back to the original question “Does Financial Education Work?” In my opinion, yes, yes it does!
Dean Obenauer, MPA, AFC®, is Assistant Director of Financial Aid for Financial Literacy at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.