UMASS Lowell’s Financial Literacy Journey

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Dr. Harry Zhu and Senior Assistant Director of Financial Aid, Christine Robbins, join students at the first annual UMass Lowell Financial Literacy Forum

Back in 2010, after riding out the recession and counseling students and their families about financial aid it began to dawn on me that people weren’t very proficient when it came to handling their finances.  I knew I couldn’t help the parents but I started thinking what we could do to help the students.  In the summer of 2010, an instructor of one of our First Year Seminar classes reached out to the Financial Aid Office to have us present information on financial aid and money management.  It was more financial aid than Money Management but it was a start.

While doing research on the internet, I came across an article written by Dean Obenauer of Creighton University.  He had written “Starting a Financial Literacy Program on a College Campus” for the RMASFAA blog on June 30, 2011.  After reading it, I went to my boss at the time and stated that I wanted to do this.  Unfortunately we did not have the funds to start a separate office but she encouraged me to pursue my interest and see what I came up with for a plan.

On September 16, 2011, I signed up for a Webinar offered by TG called Financial Literacy Training.  After the webinar, I signed up and completed training on the mini-modules they offered and was designated a presenter.  During the beginning of 2012, I started reading about Financial Literacy Month which is held in April.  I decided to run a quiz through our announcement page for students.  Each week I posted a Financial Literacy Quiz, and if a student participated each week, at the end they would be entered into a drawing and receive a gift card from our book store.  We had about 34 visits to the quiz and at the end of the month a winner was chosen. Again, we would have preferred more participation but it was a start.

In the summer of 2012, we presented Money Management information during Freshman Orientation.  The response was not what we would have hoped for according to the evaluations.  We did it for one more year after which the Orientation Team decided to go another way.  We were then invited to participate in the Parent Orientation where we discuss ways to pay the bill.  That is still ongoing today.

We started to get invited to more First Year Seminar courses and in July 2013, I created the Financial Aid Facebook Page.  Every April (Financial Literacy Month), I post a money management tip to the page every day.  Between the Facebook Page, First Year Seminars, Parent Orientations and Financial Aid Nights we have been trying to get as much information out to students as we can.  We had various companies in to view their Financial Literacy Resources but the cost was not in our budget.

Last year, we welcomed a new Chancellor who is very much supportive of our Financial Literacy Initiative.  Since we have had her support we have:

Created a Money Management Web Page

  1. Developed tailor marketing materials and announcements to promote money management resources
  2. Integrated CashCourse to our financial wellness strategy,
  3. Provided 1st year Seminar Instructors with information about CashCourse (50% have signed up) (25% scheduled in classroom presentations)
  4. Participated in a Financial Literacy Forum Sponsored by the Student Government Association
  5. Hosted a meeting with departments across campus to enhance the financial wellness for all students

We are currently working on bringing FATV to UMass Lowell.  From it just being me, there is now a Financial Wellness Committee consisting of my Director, another Senior Assistant Director, an Intern and an Honors student.  We are hoping to train and develop Peer Advisors for general financial counseling and develop strategies for at-risk students (SAP, HOLDS) to complete financial literacy education.

My advice to anyone wanting to start a Financial Literacy (Wellness) program on your campus is to get buy-in from upper management, partner with other departments on campus,  find someone who is motivated to get the ball running, and include students and student organizations in the process.

I called Dean Obenauer of Creighton University as part of my responsibility to the MASFAA Financial Wellness Committee to see what advice he might have as  his article was the one that got me motivated.    Here is what he told me and I agree with him:  “There is no right way to start – Just do it”.

Christine Robbins is a current member of MASFAA’s Financial Wellness Education Committee. For more information on the Financial Wellness Education Committee please visit: https://www.masfaa.org/financial-wellness-committee