Kent State University

Through her work as a university bursar, Stina Olafsdottir saw the need for financial education for college students. Her position has her working with many students in the midst of financial woes – more than a few with issues that could have been prevented with better knowledge. These experiences led Olafsdottir to register Kent State with CashCourse.

Olafsdottir explains, “The Bursar’s Office signed up with CashCourse a few years ago. Unfortunately, I am in a position where I see students who are many times facing a financial hardship. In some cases it is due to the fact that they have maxed out on their federal loans or did not budget adequately for college. Many of these students tell me if they had known ‘x, y, and z’, things would have been different. Almost all of our students worry about finance in some way or another – from ‘can I get Starbucks this week?’ to ‘I can’t pay my bills’.”

After starting with CashCourse, Olafsdottir wanted to deepen the financial education options available to Kent State students. She was further motivated as students indicated that financial education was something they wanted. With this in mind, Olafsdottir hired a full-time graduate assistant, Alex Sommer, to manage financial literacy initiatives on campus.

“Based on student feedback, financial literacy was important to them. That’s why we created the GA position totally dedicated to financial wellness,” Olafsdottir says. “You have to find the person who really believes they can impact student lives – not a passive role.”

“Alex is a very passionate person and truly believes in education,” she continues. “She is a perfect fit. This spring was a trial run, and now we are looking to see how we can make this even better.”

Sommer’s programming consists of cross-campus partnerships, workshops, and marketing campaigns on campus. She has also focused on incorporating undergraduate student workers to make the messaging more relatable to students.

“Prior to the spring semester I created a schedule for two weekly Financial Wellness workshops to be held in the Center for Undergraduate Excellence here on Kent’s campus. Utilizing the workshop kits from CashCourse, we were able to develop curriculum and programming specifically geared towards empowering our students financially,” Sommer explains.

“Financial wellness, we feel, is a part of the holistic student wellbeing,” she says. “Under the title Financial Wellness Champion, we hired an undergraduate student to assist with the facilitation of weekly workshops. These Financial Wellness workshops were very relatable and applicable for our students. It was beneficial to have a facilitator with whom our students could relate.”

Using CashCourse workshop kits as a starting point, Sommer has put forth a diverse schedule of in-person events.

Sommer explains, “We have been focused on offering weekly workshops, utilizing six of the CashCourse presentations. Student have received these offerings and curriculum very well. Attendance has met expectations for the first semester we have had a regular schedule in place.”

“We’ve found that after attending one workshop, students became returning attendees and were able to benefit from the diverse selection of workshops we had created for the spring semester,” Sommer says. “Many students have said it was really good because they had misunderstandings of the differences in loans or how to empower themselves financially. 'The Money Management: Actions you can Take' workshop has been the most popular with our students.'

With all of these great events planned, Sommer naturally wanted students to know about them. She also wanted to make sure her message was relatable and modern.

“I would say that the marketing aspect is pretty challenging. How do we market this to students in an updated way? To address this, we used our social media accounts and distributed marketing materials to the various departments on campus. It was critical for our financial wellness campaign to utilize the wonderful relationships with have with other departments to achieve the level of success were able to this past year,” Sommer says.

Sommer also developed one of the most innovative parts of the Kent State programming – the “Bulletin Board in a Bag”. This is a ready-made resource to give to resident hall advisors to help spread financial education.

She explains, “We also developed ‘bulletin boards in a bag.’ This was a way to offer a resource for students to utilize in the residence halls. I created a board, 'Living in Kent on a Budget', which was adopted from the CashCourse 'Money Management: Actions You Can take Today' kit. I break down a CashCourse workshop into materials for a bulletin board so RAs can save time and have educational material for the bulletin boards within their halls.”

“The main points of the selected CashCourse workshops are used when creating the design and displayed information. The RA’s receive a zip-lock bag with premeasured background paper, and KSU color specific financial focused information. We have developed two so far and we are now working on one to develop in the fall,” Sommer continues.

Sommer evaluates and adjusts her programming based on student feedback, and Olafsdottir continues to be a great champion of the initiative.

Olafsdottir says, “We have an obligation to empower our students to take charge of their financial wellness. We know that students are coming to us with very little knowledge on how to many their finances and we need to try to empower them to be financially fit. This includes cultivating an outlook that they have control over their finances and they can understand their finances.”

August 2016