University of Kansas

The University of Kansas was a fall 2014 CashCourse Reimbursement Program recipient. The reimbursement funds have supported an incredibly successful financial literacy campaign led by Leticia Gradington, director of student money management services at the University of Kansas.

Gradington describes their efforts. 'The big promotion for CashCourse is in our Cash Carnival and First Year Experience [FYE] program. In FYE, there is a core of six courses that are mandatory in University 101. The Cash Carnival is an event during our Hawk Week, a celebration for new students. We engage students with their personal finances via tabling, popcorn, and cotton candy. We have students go in and take the CashCourse quizzes.'

CashCourse has provided the crucial backbone to Kansas' financial literacy campaign. Its research-backed, noncommercial, free content has provided the framework for their programming. However, Gradington says that it is the instructors that make the difference.

'CashCourse is the tool, but instructors have to bring it to life. It's a great amount of information in one place and if you use it strategically, you can be really effective,' explains Gradington. 'KU has gotten a lot of interest from other schools on sponsoring their financial literacy program. Many don't have a lot of money, so CashCourse provides a way in with no cost.'

KU has focused on implementing financial wellness sessions before students face big decisions. The hope is to equip students with tools to make positive choices, and to consider future needs over today's impulses.

'You need to catch them on the front-end to tell students that they can get through college without so much debt,' emphasizes Gradington. 'A good financial wellness and retention program must provide students with the tools they need to survive before they know they need them.'

Her team keeps the programming focus on the students and ensures they leave each session with a personal gain. This was Gradington's biggest piece of advice for other schools in planning their financial literacy campaigns.

'You have to incorporate the 'WIFM' [What Is In It for Me?] factor and show them there is something they can use and how it benefits them,' says Gradington.

This mentality has driven the programming designed by Gradington's team. She notes that when students understand their own impulses, they are better equipped to manage their finances. Kansas always frames financial discussions with students around behavior.

'Understanding that you might want to shop because you're happy or you're sad can help adjust your behavior for the better,' says Gradington. 'Students are often not in touch with what they’re spending.'

College students are in particular need of financial management skills. Both undergraduate and graduate years bring many crucial money decisions that can permanently impact a person's life. Students often take financial cues from their peers, which isn't always for the best.

'We need to do more work on financial wellness, since it is so important to college students. Many are leaving with immense amounts of debt and often do not understand the debt they've gotten themselves into,' notes Gradington. 'Many students just accept it because they think everyone has debt.'

November 2014