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Ohio State and Indiana Host First National Summit on Financial Wellness

July 25, 2014

The Ohio State and Indiana University are hosting their 1st Annual National Summit on Financial Wellness July 28th and 29th in Columbus Ohio. Any higher education institution wanting to take a peek at an innovative approach to the financial literacy movement is strongly encouraged to attend!

We asked Bryan Ashton, Assistant Director at The Ohio State’s Office of Student Life Student Wellness Center, some questions to get a behind the scenes take on what inspired this event.

IMG_0518When did a focus on financial literacy become a need on your campus?

Financial literacy, or as we refer to it, financial wellness, has been a focus on our campus since the early 2000’s. This focus began as consumer education, mostly centered on credit card education. In 2006, our Office of Student Life and the College of Education and Human Ecology launched a partnership to develop a peer-to-peer financial coaching program, which helped us scale to allow students to assist other students with financial concerns that they may have. In the 2012-2013, we began to even further scale our operations to see over 1,000 students in a face-to-face, one-on-one coaching appointment, while still reaching thousands of students through large group workshops and marketing campaigns across campus. 

The first thing that caught my attention is that your financial literacy program is located in the Student Life Office, not the Financial Aid Office. Can you share how having this apart from the financial aid office has served your financial literacy mission for both your institution and student body?

Our program was really launched through the foresight of the Office of Student Life and the College of Education and Human Ecology to serve a dual purpose:

  • To provide financial education to students across campus in both a one-on-one and group setting
  • To provide a learning lab for students who are interested in serving as peer coaches and developing transferable skills that come from helping their peers in a one-on-one and group setting

This vision has allowed us to really grow our reach as we have grown from around seven peer financial coaches to over 43 peer financial coaches who volunteer with our office five to seven hours per week. These students are trained extensively and are able to provide holistic financial coaching, with the full recognition that while debt, financial aid, and collegiate financing options are crucial to a student’s experience, financial wellness is a much broader topic that requires building financial capability around everyday knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. We have a tremendous relationship with our Office of Student Financial Aid, which allows us to cross-refer, and cross-train clients and staff. This partnership has allowed us to work seamlessly to provide services that reinforce concepts (in both Financial Aid and Student Life) as opposed to competing.

Additionally, this article may help to provide some context around this decision:

We can all relate to the pains of low student attendance at financial literacy events. What are some unique ways your program has maintained a good level of student attendance?

We have been able to do this a few ways:

  • Our focus is on a one-on-one peer lead intervention, which allows for the student to feel comfortable talking to a fellow student, reduces the concerns associated with talking about finances in a large group, and allows for individual support to be given. This creates more student buy-in during the process and allows for us to structure a process, using motivational interviewing techniques, that engages the student.
  • We still do large group workshops, but mostly on generic content that is relatable to all students. More importantly, we only go to pre-set groups (we do not host stand-alone programming). This programming is more designed as a “hook” to raise awareness around certain topics and help to connect students to resources that are available on campus.
  • We rely very heavily on just-in-time education. This may mean providing enhanced exit counseling about repayment options as a student’s graduation near, budgeting advice as they seek an emergency grant, or education about the cost of moving off campus when they are applying for apartments, but the key is making sure that the information is timely and relevant to their lives. While we know that there are core concepts that our students need to understand (from a knowledge side), really looking at shifting behaviors requires a commitment to providing just-in-time education. 

IMG_0540What were some ways your administration supported you through your financial literacy campaigns? 

Our administration has been incredibly supportive of financial wellness efforts for a long time. From the creation of financial wellness as part of the institution’s 9-Dimensions of Wellness, through the integration of financial topics into key initiatives at the University and into the environmental approach of attempting to create a campus that is inclusive of access and affordability, financial wellness has been seen as a real opportunity to educate our student body for their time at Ohio State and beyond. 

How did the collaboration between The Ohio State and Indiana University begin?

The Ohio State University, through our Office of Student Life, had the opportunity to host a Statewide Summit on Financial Wellness last April (2013). This event was very well attended, and strong feedback was provided for an increased need for events similar to this. In conversations with Phil Schuman, Director of Financial Literacy at Indiana University, he recognized a similar need to establish a larger, national meeting to share information and best practices, as well as emerging research in the field. Due to the fragmented nature of financial literacy programs (some are housed in the CFO’s office, Student Affairs, Financial Aid and other areas), there are few centralized opportunities for campuses to come together as these programs begin to emerge on college campuses. From there, Phil and his team were willing to join our planning committee on campus, to really move the event forward and establish a national presence. 

Limited resources continue to be a concern among the financial aid community when it comes to building a financial literacy program. Please share how this program was able to overcome this factor and receive the support required to get the ball rolling.

Financial literacy is often seen as something that is necessary to provide (we continue to see reports of shockingly low levels of financial literacy among young Americans), but the establishment of the institutional ROI can at times be a difficult discussion to have. For our program, we were able to prove student demand, in conjunction with very strong administrative support, to begin to build our resources (through a variety of sources, including University Affinity agreements).

However, when working with other campuses, the rationale for the development of these programs tends to vary. Some campuses see this as a way to work towards addressing default prevention, others to work towards a reduction in student borrowing, and even further, some see it as a way to work towards higher persistence numbers. At Ohio State, we tend to see it as broader institutional responsibility, with the hope of someday linking institutional objectives (like the ones above) more closely to these efforts. 

summit1What are the benefits of having a collaborative event with Indiana University?

Indiana University brings a great deal to our partnership and we are very lucky to have them involved. They are in a newer phase of development with their programs (which is more in line with where many campuses are) so they are able to provide the perspective of what was helpful in their growth, what is relevant to similar programs, and how we can best structure the event to meet as many different types of programs as possible. Furthermore, Phil has brought many great connections to increasing our attendee base, delivering some great keynote speakers and presentations. They really have had great institutional support as well and have done some amazing things with their programming (truly a campus wide effort) in just under a year! 

How much time was required in preparation for the event?

Preparation for this event has been happening for months, and we have had many dedicated team members to make it happen. The thought originated after our statewide summit last April, but really took off in January of 2014.

Were there any moments of doubt as plans began to unfold? 

I think that anytime you are planning the “first” of a large national event, there are some doubts. We received many “regrets” of individuals who did not have it in their budget, had scheduled vacation, or had other commitments. As we look to build this for the years to come, we hope that an annual event will help to reduce some of these areas of concern. We have had great support from our team, sponsors, and The Ohio State University to make this happen though!

How did you determine who would be staffing the event, and how many were selected to assist?

In addition to Indiana University, our team on the ground at Ohio State has been a tremendous help!

  • Connie Boehm – Director of the Student Wellness Center
  • Catherine P. Montalto – Associate Professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology
  • Molly Hegarty – Managing Director of Student Legal Services
  • Erin Moehl – Program Manager for Industry Initiatives in the Fisher College of Business

This team was brought together for the Statewide Summit and has continued to stay engaged and volunteer their time and effort. These are some of our very close partners in delivering financial education at Ohio State.

What are three things you hope attendees will gain from the National Summit on Financial Wellness? 

  • An understanding of the different types of financial education programs that exist, and the research base that supports the need for these programs.
  • An understanding of how to begin to look at the development of evidence practice in the work that they do around financial education. This should lend itself to further administrative support for these programs.
  • A network of colleagues across the nation with similar interest, varying degrees of experience, and different approaches to delivering financial education, all with a passion for continuing the conversation.

 What do you hope to personally accomplish during this inaugural event?

I am really hoping that we can begin to enhance the dialogue and resources sharing around the development of financial literacy programs on college campuses. In recent years, we have seen an explosion of programs being developed and even more discussion about potentially developing programs. We are hoping that this can begin to build a national coalition to help elevate these programs, begin to establish an evidence base for effective college student interventions around student finances, and assist institutions in making an increased call for resources for these types of programs.

Is there anything else you would like to share that added to the success establishing the National Summit on Financial Wellness?

We are really excited to bring a great group of people to Columbus, Ohio this year and look forward to growing the Summit and the conversation around student finances in the coming years. We hope that this can begin to provide an opportunity for researchers, policy makers, and practitioners to come together and work together, to address one of the larger issues for our students today.

For more information on the National Summit on Financial Wellness, click here.


April Hastings, Learning Engineer, Nelnet Partner Solutions

April Hastings, Learning Engineer, Nelnet Partner Solutions

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