Written By: Andrea Lin
Student Money Management Centers in Postsecondary Education
The University of Missouri is one of a small percentage of postsecondary institutions across the U.S. that has a Student Money Management Center. Each semester, the Office for Financial Success facilitates monthly financial literacy workshops. We also serve as guest presenters to a few classrooms each week, with popular requests for topics like budgeting, money psychology, and postgraduate finances. Last year, we completed nearly 500 one-on-one financial guidance appointments. Among these student clients, those that reported high initial stress reported a 32-40% decrease in stress after their appointments. Student clients that meet with us often seek to learn how to start and maintain a budget, ways to pay for college, or how to start building their credit score.
Peer Financial Coaches Make the Difference
The Office for Financial Success operates primarily through the use of Peer Financial Coaches (PFCs) trained in money management topics as well as communication and coaching skills. We come from a diverse background of studies, from Finance and its adjacent majors to the arts and sciences, like Psychology, Biology, and Music. We have PFCs that are Personal Financial Planning majors, first-generation college students, Greek life students, and more. This variety gives our team a better chance to connect with the different types of students seeking our support.
The primary advantage of having student clients work with PFCs is that we are living the student experience alongside them. Our full-time staff have incredible wealths of knowledge, but opening up to someone from another generation may not be as easy as someone who could very well live in the same dorm. The invaluable insight of common experience allows PFCs to understand our peers and make them feel seen while still providing financial knowledge.
One-on-One Example: Exit Counseling
Exit Counseling is a requirement for all federal student loan borrowers, aiming to increase loan repayment preparedness. Often, students complete Exit Counseling online on their own, but at the University of Missouri, students have the option to complete it with support of the Office for Financial Success. During these one-on-one meetings, we guide student clients through the material and answer questions along the way.
One of the common questions we get during “Exit Counseling season” is why a student loan borrower would schedule an appointment to do something they can complete on their own. The simple answer is that we can personalize the process. As a PFC, the most rewarding aspect of facilitating these meetings is when the student client begins to ask questions. They may begin by asking what the grace period is or where to go to make their first payment; but a responsive peer coach can encourage the conversation forward, and student clients begin to ask more in-depth questions like whether the Teacher Loan Forgiveness path makes sense for their financial goals. We get to see them become more animated and put trust in the process. In our post-consult surveys, student clients have frequently pointed out how we match their pace, give them the support they need, and never talk down to them. As a PFC, I’ve learned that some of the most effective financial counseling strategies are less about financial content and more about connecting with the student client.
Gauge Emotions and Knowledge Base First
When student clients come in stressed, talking numbers will always come second to unpacking the feelings that come with them. My first Exit Counseling appointment was a struggle because I didn’t take the time to understand their knowledge base or where their stress came from. When they asked questions about each step along the way, I thought they had trouble understanding the process. They got increasingly confused and agitated as we went on. We finally connected when I paused and asked if anyone in their family had taken out student loans before. The conversation that followed made me realize they weren’t overwhelmed by the Exit Counseling information; their mind was filled with anxiety from how student loan debt in their family personally affected them. It was clear they felt relieved just from sharing that burden out loud, and it allowed us to address some very valid concerns.
Maintain Meeting Flow
Understandably, people can get overwhelmed thinking about student loan debt and repayment. Some have shared that they tried to complete Exit Counseling on their own time, felt overwhelmed by the process, and eventually became fatigued enough to end their session. These students benefit greatly from working through Exit Counseling with a PFC because we have enough experience to provide a summary or clarification on anything covered in the Exit Counseling program and the additional encouragement to complete the session. I also find that those who are less motivated to read the material can benefit from working with a guide because the PFC can ensure they learn important parts they may have otherwise skimmed through.
Understand Our Personal Beliefs
There are many different types of attitudes toward student loans, and it only takes a little empathy to see where they come from. As financial coaches, it is so important to understand our personal beliefs about the topics we discuss with student clients and where those beliefs come from. At the Office for Financial Success, our PFCs come from a variety of financial backgrounds. Some of our backgrounds may have taught us to avoid student loans at all costs or pay them off as soon as possible, while others may have taught us to use student loans and view repayment as a part of life. We don’t promote either view. Our office promotes smart borrowing: we focus on giving a realistic impression of both the benefits and long-term effects of student loans as a college funding source. This is because our personal experiences can help us to relate to some people but may blind us to the validity of other views. When we understand where our financial beliefs come from, we can provide support based on the individual’s situation, background, and goals instead of thinking in terms of what we would personally do.
Encourage Discussions with Role Models
Often, our views are informed by our role models. These can be parental figures, mentors, even our fellow peers. PFCs can provide knowledge to help student clients make informed decisions, but they are likely to learn even more about the financial world by talking about money regularly with the people in their lives.
Our office aims to increase student clients’ financial preparedness and build the confidence to achieve their financial goals. Above all, my experiences with student clients have taught me how powerful it is to lift the taboo around talking about money, which is something that can enrich our understanding of our personal financial context and enhance our supportive relationships with others.
A special thank you to my mentor and program manager, Alex Embree, M.Ed., AFC®, who has supported my professional development from day one.
Andrea Lin is a Peer Financial Counselor in The Office for Financial Success at the University of Missouri. She earned her AFCPE® Money Management Essentials badge and is pursuing degrees in Economics and Violin Performance.