Solano Community College

Tracy Gross, the student services assistant for Solano Community College’s financial aid department, brings a special perspective to her financial literacy work.

“I was a student at Solano about five or six years ago. I wasn’t very financially savvy and made mistakes that could have affected my educational journey. Students are most likely to drop out of college due to financial obstacles,” Gross explains.

This experience has fueled her work creating a robust campus culture of financial literacy at Solano. Gross works alongside Robin Darcangelo, the associate dean of students, financial aid, EOPS, and veterans. Together, they have built an impressive financial literacy program aimed at educating students and strengthening Solano’s default prevention program.

Darcangelo says, “Our financial literacy campaign revolves around workshops: a basic financial literacy workshop and a smart borrower workshop. The financial literacy workshop goes above and beyond financial aid and covers topics like money management and budgeting. We use a lot of material from CashCourse's workshop kits.”

Darcangelo and Gross realize how crucial their work is for the future of Solano students. Effective financial education can set a student up for success during and after college.

“Solano is an open-access community college, and a very large percentage of our students receive financial aid. We serve a large population of low-income students, and many are overwhelmed by receiving a large lump sum at the beginning of the semester. They might not know how to create a budget and make the money last,” Darcangelo explains.

Their programming continues to adapt to student needs. Darcangelo and Gross both value evaluating and tweaking their strategies for effectiveness. They take different approaches for the diverse student population at Solano.

Gross says, “At the very beginning, we experienced decent enrollment in our workshops, but I really wanted to reach out to all students—not just those who had financial aid. How do you reach those students? Borrowers had to come in for a requirement, but it really helped to have an incentive. With things like gift cards and food, we were able to get more students to attend after word got around.”

When asked on advice for other schools planning financial literacy campaigns, Gross had a ready answer. As a near peer to students, she has been able to connect using her own experiences.

“Make it fun. Don’t make it a lecture, and try to make it relatable. Students are in class all day listening to lectures. We used a prize wheel to get students to come to our table and ask more questions. I also engage with students by making fun of myself by sharing mistakes I’ve made and they can relate because we’ve all been there,” Gross says.

A big aspect of Darcangelo and Gross’ programming is making financial literacy part of the student’s journey. They have worked hard to make partnerships across campus and have found great success in partnering with faculty.

Darcangelo explains, “Faculty run our student success workshops. We reached out to them about including financial literacy in those workshops and they were very receptive. They were even more excited when we provided them with financial education resources. That was a big part of welcoming the financial literacy effort across campus.”

These efforts have translated into some incredible results.

Darcangelo shares, “CashCourse and financial literacy is a huge part of our students’ educational journey. It has been a great product and a great tool for students. We have seen students borrow less than they have in the past. That’s a huge positive outcome.”

February 2016