According to a study conducted by the College Entrance Examination Board, one of the primary reasons why students drop out of college is due to financial struggles. This astounding fact was one of the reasons that prompted The University of North Texas to create a program to help educate students about personal financial management. In October 2005, the Student Money Management Center was established to provide students with the tools and resources they need to make sound financial decisions and become financially successful during and after college. So far, approximately 10,000 students have benefited from the Center and its subset Financial Skills and Financial Success Programs.
Rachel Grimes became the Assistant Director for Outreach in 2010, and has since expanded the Center's outreach programs to include greater student engagement and collaborations with departments and programs across campus. Currently, there are two components of the Center's outreach programs. The first is the financial literacy workshops organized every semester that cover a variety of financial topics from budgeting and credit to cooking on a budget and buying a car. "Because students can find a lot of information on the Internet, we make the workshops more hands-on, relevant to their lives, and go into more depth." The second component is classroom presentations, which are requested by professors and based on topics students want to learn. The Center typically offers 40-50 workshops and class presentations each semester. Content for the workshops and presentations is drawn from many resources ranging from students' personal stories to Practical Money Skills for Life, Cash Course and FDIC.
To attract more interest in its programs, the Center incorporates pop culture references into its lessons. For example, Walking Debt – based on the TV series Walking Dead – is an activity-based session in which teams of students "purchase" items to help them survive the Zombie Apocalypse. If they forget to purchase a necessary item, they can purchase it at an inflated price. But if they don't have enough money, one of their team members will be turned into a zombie. The team with the most remaining members at the end wins. After the game, they discuss the challenges to financial planning and the importance of saving.
Maintaining visibility on campus is an essential part of the program. Each semester, the Center's peer mentors staff informational tables set up in a high-traffic area and feature interactive activities like "What's Your Celebrity Money Personality," during which participants are likened to celebrities like Oprah and Donald Trump based on their answers about money management.
The Center's long-term goal – a financial literacy course for students – was recently initiated. Financial Intelligence Training, or FIT, is a six-week course taught by Rachel every fall, spring and summer semester. "We look at students' financial goals, including where they are now and where they want to be in the future," Rachel says. Topics include post-graduate financial management, retirement, investing and major life purchases. To date, over 150 students have passed the course. The Center also offers one-on-one financial coaching to help answer students' personal questions about money and work directly with them on their budgets and goals. More than 2,500 students have participated in one-on-one financial coaching sessions.
"One of the biggest challenges teaching financial literacy to college students is that they are in a transitional period," Rachel explains. "They aren't in a position to make a lot of money because of the responsibilities of being a student. Therefore, money is a more difficult concept to grasp." To overcome this challenge, Rachel and her team use relevant activities and examples in all workshops, presentations and courses.
Rachel's interest in financial literacy stems from the study of what drives people to make their goals and decisions. "My job provides a great opportunity to understand why students handle their finances the way they do and figure out which tools and resources would benefit them the most," she says. She practices good finance in her own life by reevaluating her own goals on a monthly – and sometimes daily – basis.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Rachel Grimes for her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at The University of North Texas in Denton, TX.