2018 CashCourse Financial Educator of the Year: Ann House

We are proud to announce Ann House as the recipient of the 2018 CashCourse Financial Educator of the Year Award. Currently serving as the director of University of Utah’s Student Money Management Center, House has been instrumental in state legislation that has made Utah a leader in personal finance. In her current role, she is a campus change-maker and a national leader in collegiate financial education. We sat down to talk with House about her inspiring work. Read on for our interview.

CC: How did you first get interested in financial education?

AH: Since I was very young, I have identified as a consumer advocate. For instance, I have always loved Consumer Reports. It is the first place I go if I’m buying a toaster oven, a vacuum or a new car.

Out of college, I taught elementary school for a while, and then I decided to get a Master’s degree. It was during that time I met faculty who were also consumer advocates. During my graduate studies, I began working with Robert Mayer, who has sat on the board of the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), headed by Stephen Brobeck.

After graduating with my Masters, I got a job with the Utah State University Cooperative Extension as their state specialist on Family Resource Management. I taught county agents how to teach personal finance and introduced programs for Utah’s families, youth, and the elderly. The Cooperative Extension reaches out to everyone who isn’t associated with the university, so they serve a very diverse population -- kids through seniors.

It was during this time that a colleague of mine and I started Utah Saves. America Saves is a savings program now facilitated by CFA, but it was based on an older program by cooperative extensions called Money 2000. Money 2000 encouraged people to save $2,000 by the year 2000. It was so successful that the CFA took it over and renamed it America Saves. CFA did some research and realized financial education works best when it is community-based versus top-down from a big organization.

We developed Utah Saves and brought that to all of our counties as well as getting our county agents involved with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). We helped empower agents to host VITA events to help our residents get their taxes done. Most of Utah is rural and southern Utah is especially rural; if you live in rural America, then you know your county agent.

I also became involved with the Jump$tart Coalition. We would always recommend the NEFE High School Financial Planning Program curriculum; it was well-tested, well-received, free, and established. We would teach our school teachers financial literacy using NEFE curriculum.

At this point I began getting involved at the state legislative level. I formed a partnership with state senator Pat Jones, and we introduced a bill to the legislature that required a mandated financial literacy course for high school students. It took Pat, Jump$tart, Fair Credit Foundation and I to convince the state legislature that personal finance is very important to high school students. High school students have disposable income; we let them know they can save for college and invest. We managed to get a one-semester personal finance course that is mandated in our high schools. Eleventh and twelfth graders must take this course to graduate.

We struggled with the state department of education initially; we eventually formed some really good relationships there. We not only got our objectives into the curriculum, but we helped set the requirement that our teachers must be endorsed to teach personal finance. We developed a statewide assessment that covered our learning objectives. Students don’t need to be taught how to write checks; they need to learn topics like budgeting and saving, and they need to be taught how to fill out the FAFSA or a W-2. I started a website for teachers, students and parents to use for the state’s financial literacy efforts.

Champlain College did a national assessment of states’ endeavors in teaching personal finance. Utah was the only state that got an A+. We got that A+ because of our mandated course and our trained teachers.

We can all think back to our favorite teacher who inspired us with their passion or affected us in some special way that changed our lives. The course is only going to be as good as the teacher. I’m very proud of the A+ grade and of our teachers. This April, Yahoo Finance and US News and World Report did stories of our successes during financial literacy month.

CC: Tell us about your work at the University of Utah.

AH: About eight years ago, I got a call from the University of Utah. They wanted to start a Student Money Management Center (SMMC). We were seeing student loan debt building and building. They could also see that students were getting behind on their loans and going into default. The colleges got an idea to start a money management center so students could visit with someone one-on-one and get help with their finances.

It doesn’t do our students or the institution any good if students don’t graduate, especially if they have student loans and they drop out of school. So I went to the University of Utah to build an SMMC. There were only a few other SMMCs at the time: for example, Paul Goebel at the University of North Texas. We checked out their work, and I set out determining what I needed at the university.

We surveyed more than 1,000 students and asked them what they wanted to learn. We asked what issues were stressing them out and if they would even want a center like this. Overwhelmingly, they said they wanted to learn more about finances and to have someone to help them with finances. They wanted to learn about credit, budgeting and paying for each semester. I was able to get three dollars per student added to the student fees to get started with the SMMC. I always say, “Come get your three dollars’ worth!” every single semester.

Our center offers luncheons with guest speakers and personal one-on-one counseling. We cover all parts of being a savvy consumer going through life and managing your money. It has come full circle for me: I’m back to being a consumer advocate.

Now other colleges and universities in Utah have SMMCs. Our Utah group meets regularly to chat about best practices and what is and isn’t working. I am an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC® ) through the Association of Financial Counselors & Planning Educators (AFCPE®). I believe it is the best accreditation as it is well-respected for its education and ethics.

I have employed many students in the office through past semesters as peer mentors. These students want to be financial planners, or teachers, or to go into business. I provide the counseling, the training and run the office, but I send my peer mentors to reach out to other students to tell them about our office and our resources.

CC: Can you share a favorite memory of working with students on personal finance?

AH: I’ve got a few favorite memories of working with students one-on-one. Students who have told me they would have dropped out of school if it hadn’t been for my help. That they didn’t see a way financially to finish school and I helped show them a path. I’ve even been told that I was a true lifesaver.

When I first started this center, I had a lot of university staff that wanted to come in and see me. I didn’t want to say no and thought it was a good place to start. Staff had so many questions about their budgeting because they didn’t have personal finance in school. I’ve had staff tell me they now know they can retire. That our work let them know where they are and what they need to do so they can retire. I see as many staff and faculty as student.

Another favorite memory is when then Senator Pat Jones and I were finally able to convince the state legislature on the importance of personal finance. Policy makers, for the most part, are well-off and don’t understand that many people don’t have money, don’t have savings, and don’t have retirement. If we get our workforce educated and prepared, then everyone benefits.

CC: What advice do you have for other colleges or universities doing this type of work?

AH: Assessment. I couldn’t do what I do without my surveys. Marketing is also so important. Students complain about their various fees and I tell them to get their money’s worth. Take advantage of everything! Take a fitness class. Get counseling here at the SMMC. You’ll never be in a position like this again. Market something they will relate to now and hopefully they won’t forget that when they are beyond college.

CC: Anything you would like to add?

AH: I live what I teach. I’m always looking for sales and discounts. I keep a car for 22 years, and that’s 19 years without a car payment.

I’m very passionate that everyone learns to make good financial decisions. We are literally confronted with dozens of financial choices every day. Do I stop at this gas station or another one? Do I drive to work or take public transportation? Do I take my lunch every day? Do I send my child to this university or do I send my child to community college and then transfer? We face so many decisions every day. I don’t know of too many other things that are as consistently important throughout your life.