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Best Practices in Financial Aid: Real L.I.F.E Program at Missouri State University

June 24, 2011

Lisa Wainwright from Missouri State University

Lisa Wainwright helped initiate the Real L.I.F.E. program at Missouri State University in the Fall of 2010.  She was a graduate assistant in the Office of Student Financial Aid and received her Master’s degree in Student Affairs in May. 

Pam King:  Can you tell me what L.I.F.E. stands for?

Lisa Wainwright:  L.I.F.E. stands for Literacy In Financing your Education

Pam:  What are the major components of Missouri State’s Real L.I.F.E. Program?

Lisa:  The MSU Real LIFE team is made up of a Student Financial Advocate (Graduate Assistant) and four Peer Financial Counselors.  The Peer Financial Counselors are a group of students who desire to help spread financial literacy across campus through one-on-one financial counseling and through presentations to students.  This year the MSU Real LIFE program partnered with the Office of First Year Programs to present financial literacy in several freshmen seminar classes.  A total of over 1100 students were reached through financial literacy classroom presentations this year. 

Pam:  Why did Missouri State decide to create the Real L.I.F.E. program?

Lisa:  For 2010-11, Missouri State University was the proud recipient of the Default Prevention Grant awarded by the Missouri Department of Higher Education.  This grant was able to provide funding for the financial literacy efforts that Missouri State has been aiming for in the past several years.  Now more than ever, our students are faced with higher tuition costs, more credit card offers, and are experiencing higher student loan debt than in previous years.  We think it is vital for our students to be educated in financial management in order to have a successful financial future. 

 Pam:  What kind of feedback are you receiving from students?

Lisa:  Feedback from students has been very positive.  Most of our face-to-face contact is through our classroom and organization presentations.  These presentations are very interactive, and we give pre- and post-tests to determine student learning and to evaluate the effectiveness of our presentations.  In all of our topic areas students are increasing their financial knowledge after attending our presentations.  Our MSU Real LIFE TV is also receiving quality feedback from students and parents.  Overall, students enjoy an entertaining means of learning about financial management, and parents have commented that they appreciate our efforts and find the information we are presenting to be valuable. 

Pam:  Since the program just started in fall of 2010, how is Real L.I.F.E. being promoted across campus?

Lisa:  MSU Real LIFE is promoted through many channels across campus.  In order for all student organizations to be aware of our program, we present at the Student Government open forum.  We also have developed an MSU Real LIFE TV station on YouTube:

 This station plays a bi-weekly game show where students are asked financial literacy questions for the chance to win up to $100 to be used towards educational supplies.  This station was so popular, the MSU Office of Web and New Media chose to feature it on the Missouri State homepage, which has led to a large increase in web traffic, and more students have been able to learn about our services.  We are also working to partner with the freshmen seminar classes for Fall 2011 by making a financial management website specifically tailored to these students to be used in the classroom.  By hitting the freshmen, we hope to have a program that, in four years, nearly every student will be aware of.  Brochures outlining the MSU Real LIFE program and specific financial aid requirements are also made available for transfer students.

Pam:  How do you locate your peer financial counselors?

Lisa:  Peer Financial Counselors are recruited each Fall.  We use several campus resources to advertise for these position openings: residence halls, Student Government Association, and the College of Business Administration, to name a few.  We also send out a nomination form for professors to nominate students who they view as financially fit. While many of our Peer Financial Counselors are seeking degrees in finance or accounting, we do not require this.  One of our Peer Financial Counselors this year was a music education major, and she was able to add very valuable experience to our team through her financial skills that she developed from her personal knowledge.

 Pam:  Do you have any advice for someone who is just getting started with their financial literacy program on campus?

Lisa:  Collaboration and imagination are the keys to success.  In the past, when the financial aid office has hosted an event, our attendance has been disappointing.  However, by partnering with other events that are already taking place and by adding interactive components to our presentations, we have been able to present information to a large number of students. 

In order to be successful, be aware of what events are going on around your campus.  Check for partnerships with:

  • Office of Student Engagement
  • First Year Programs
  • Transfer Student Services
  • Student Orientation
  • Welcome Weekend Events
  • Academic and Career Advisors
  • Multicultural Student Services
  • College of Business Administration

Pam King, Partner Solutions Strategy and Missouri

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