30 Jun 3 tips for Your Student Financial Wellness Program

By Suzanne Angheloni, USA Funds

There’s a lot you could do proactively to connect your students to money management education, but nobody can do it all. Here are a few high-level best practices for developing and maintaining a financial wellness program.

First: Educate students and their families consistently, with the right information at the right time.

Research conducted by Dr. Kim Brown of the University of Des Moines found that, for the population of students she studied, it took repeated exposure to financial literacy topics over time to bring about positive changes in behavior.

It’s important to consider what information would be useful to your students and when that education would be most relevant.

I’ll use entrance and exit counseling as an example: Students complete these processes when they have a lot of other things on their minds.

  • For entrance counseling, they are thinking about classes, getting their books, finding their classes and navigating all of the other things that come along with starting school.
  • With exit counseling, their minds are on graduation, employment and what the next phase of life is going to involve.

Overcome this information overload by providing students and their families with small educational snippets that are easily consumable and available to them when they need it.

Second: Involve students in the process.

Remember to treat your students as stakeholders in what you are doing. A stakeholder can be defined as: “A person who has an interest in or investment in something, and who is impacted by and cares about how it turns out.” Even if they don’t care initially, the goal is to get them to care.

One great way to discover what students need to know and how they would like to receive information is to conduct a survey. The students will already feel engaged and invested in the program because they were involved in its creation. The results of your survey can also help you identify what topics are relevant to your students – giving you insight that allows you to develop the program from their perspective. For example:

  • Let’s assume you conducted a survey of your students, and “budgeting income and expenses” was at the top of the list of topics of interest.
  • You would want to focus your initial efforts around that topic by incorporating activities such as a social media campaign with money saving tips and workshops on managing money.

You can also involve students in the actual implementation of your program. Many students prefer to discuss finances with a peer, so many schools have started peer mentoring programs. To develop such a program, train a group of students to lead workshops, spearhead the movement to promote your financial literacy program on campus and, in some cases, even take one-on-one appointments.

Third: Measure your effectiveness.

Early on, there wasn’t really a need to measure the results of financial literacy programs because everyone just assumed that, if it was educating students, the program was a success. We knew that students who understood how to manage their time and money were more likely to finish school on time and less likely to default on their student loan(s). Schools passed along the information to students and everyone seemed fine with this.

Within the last few years, however, a bigger question has emerged: How do we know financial education has an impact on student behavior? If your school is going to invest time and money into implementing financial education programs, you need to be able to say with some level of certainty that the efforts are worth the expense. You need to be able to show that the actions you are taking ultimately are going to help you achieve your goals. And you need to be able to identify areas that need improvement if you are not achieving your desired results.

Proving a financial literacy program that makes a difference comes with challenges. It is impossible to attribute changes in human behavior to a single point of intervention. You can, however, look for leading indicators — knowledge, attitudes and self-reported changes in behavior — that can show that training contributed to a positive change in behavior.