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Financial Literacy: Wichita State University’s MyCollegeMoneyPlan.org

July 5, 2012

“The implications of poor financial management can affect more than students’ finances. It can affect their academic performance, mental and physical well-being, and even their ability to find employment after graduation.” This was one of several findings of a 2006 academic conference paper done by Brenda Cude of the University of Georgia and other colleagues. Today, colleges and universities are finding creative ways to provide financial literacy information to their students. Wichita State University is no exception. Dr. William Vanderburgh, Director, Wichita State University Office for Faculty Development and Student Success recently shared information about the school’s Financial Literacy Project with Don Buehrer, Nelnet’s Regional Director for Partner Solutions.

Don : What is the purpose of your program?

Bill: The Financial Literacy Project at Wichita State University aims to promote college completion by helping college-bound and new college students (and their families) make a sensible plan for managing money—in college and beyond.  While our main focus is on our state, we aspire to have a national audience for our online program, MyCollegeMoneyPlan.org.

Don: How was the program developed?

Bill: About two years ago. the Kansas Board of Regents encouraged Wichita State University to apply for a College Access Challenge Grant.  Since the Office for Faculty Development and Student Success helps create and coordinate student success initiatives on our campus, the task fell to us.  We were successful in winning the grant, which enabled us to hire one full-time and one part-time employee (Tim Hagan and Gretchen Holthaus) who do most of the heavy lifting for the program including design and delivery.

Don: How does your program work?

Bill: Our program has three core components: live outreach events for students and families that help them understand how to plan for the financial aspects of college, an annual conference for educators on teaching financial literacy to promote college completion, and the online resource MyCollegeMoneyPlan.org. We are funded by a federal grant; all of our services are completely free, are not branded by any college, and contain no advertising.

Don: What do you see as the main benefit of your program?

Bill: There has been a lot of press lately about rising college costs and student debt burdens.  This is a problem with significant implications for the long-term success, not only of individuals but the country as a whole.  Too much student debt can be crippling to individuals—at the very least, it delays graduates’ abilities to make major purchases and spur economy.  The fear of too much student debt also deters some people from attempting college in the first place. This is both a social justice problem (since people from lower socioeconomic strata are most affected by price and thus have another barrier to achieving the college dream) and a problem for the long-term competitiveness of the USA in the global economy.  Getting more US citizens to graduate, without overly-burdensome debt loads, is a national priority.

Our program can help students and families make wise choices about how to fund a college education, how to manage money while in college, how to manage student debt, and how to build financial independence after college.  We show people how to choose colleges they can afford that still meet their needs and interests, what kinds of debt are worth taking for what kinds of purposes, how much student debt is reasonable, and what things someone needs to know and do to be successful managing money for the long-term.  In short, MyCollegeMoneyPlan.org helps students and families maximize the return on their college investment.

Don: Do you have any online courses available for borrowers?

Bill: MyCollegeMoneyPlan.org is a free resource that helps students figure out what they need to know and do to be able to afford college, survive financially while in college, and manage their student debt burden after college.

Don: How do you determine the success of your program?

Bill: We gather feedback from attendees at the events we host, we monitor the number of users in the online course and their progress, and we are currently designing a long-term tracking instrument to add in the next grant funding period.  We are hearing from more and more educators who want to use our materials in their own classes, which we take to be a good sign, too.

Don Buehrer, Regional Director, Nelnet Partner Solutions

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