Itawamba Community College

There are many good times to teach students about personal finance, but building money skills into a first-year experience class can equip students with a few essential lessons as they start college.

Marty Cooper, Director of the PACE (Preparing and Advancing for College Excellence) program at Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Miss., teaches one such course, and he uses CashCourse as part of his curriculum on personal finance.

'The number one thing we want them to understand as college students is that—even though they don't think they have any money, they do—and they can spend that money wisely. They can even save some,' says Cooper. 'It's critical to have them managing their money, so they actually have it when they get out of school.'

At Itawamba, all freshman students are required to participate in PACE classes, regardless of their ACT score. Cooper asks students to log on to CashCourse and read specific articles, including information on Pell grants and student loans. The students then write and submit essays on the information, how it helped them, and how they plan to use it.

'We have students come up with a budget for their college time,' Cooper says. 'We have a lot of students who work while they go to school, and it really helps them.'

Itawamba has been using CashCourse since August 2012, but since CashCourse re-launched in October 2013, Itawamba has had outstanding traffic to the program website, with an average visit duration of 8 minutes and more than 950 student users.

'We basically got on the Web and looked at several different [programs], but we liked that [students] would have access to CashCourse all the time,' Cooper says.

To make the lessons stick, Cooper recommendations getting students thinking beyond their college years.

'On the budget calculator, I have them make an adult budget. I think that kids today aren't in touch with the reality of how expensive things are; I'm not sure they're aware of how much it costs to get out there on their own,' he says. 'They finish it in class, but we have them take it home to their parents, or grandparents, or adults in their lives to get the reality of what things actually cost.'

Student response to the personal finance component of the PACE courses has been overwhelmingly positive, Cooper says.

'I make students write their feedback on the final exam,' he says, 'and 80 or 90 percent of students say the financial information and the CashCourse program are the number one benefit they get from the class.'

February 2014