From the Student Affairs VP: How financial literacy positively impacts ACC students

Lower tuition than four-year schools make community colleges an attractive option for many students, but worries about the cost of college and how to pay for it is nevertheless also widespread among these students. This is why ACC Student Affairs, particularly Enrollment Management and the Student Money Management Office (SMMO), works towards prompting more students to submit financial aid applications, explore scholarship opportunities, and make informed financial decisions.

Enrollment Management's Financial Aid Office helps ACC students achieve their academic goals by providing them with financial resources and information. At "Get Your Money Now!" workshops, for example, Financial Aid not only explains all the financial aid options available to students but also shows them how to complete the FAFSA.

Financial Aid's next Financial Aid Day is Saturday, June 15, 2019! 

Student Money Management Office: Personal Finance for College Students

Even if students find the necessary funding to pay their expenses, it turns out many of them may also be making decisions about money that could challenge their ability to stay in school.

According to SMMO surveys, less than a quarter of students enrolled in EDUC1300 have a written budget, and only about one in three have checked their credit report in the past 12 months.

Karen Serna, SMMO director, has also found that students don't have experience with bank accounts. A fairly large number of the students who participated in SMMO's 2018-2019 Rainy Day Savings Program said that it was the first bank account they had ever had, and she is surprised by the number of students going to SMMO for financial coaching that don't have a checking account.

Serna is considering modifying the EDUC1300 survey to include a question that asks students if they have a bank account to see if there is a need to help more ACC students with opening a checking or savings account. Even though the survey is voluntary, self-reported, and most students who complete it are first-time at ACC (FTACC) students with fewer than 12 semester hours of successful college credit, it is the largest assessment of budgeting, credit, and financial aid behaviors among ACC students.

Many agree that financial literacy, also known as money management, plays a role in college completion. Students' ability to make informed financial decisions may also contribute to food and housing insecurity. A growing number of colleges, including ACC, are focusing on meeting these and other basic needs for their students with, for example, emergency aid programs, but Serna says higher education should also explore what colleges can do to help students prepare for emergencies. "What I want us to start thinking about is, 'What can we do on the front end, to prevent the emergency from happening in the first place?'"

Two SMMO initiatives in particular — EDUC1300 workshops and text messaging — have risen above the rest as successful approaches for outreaching to students and making them aware of both SMMO's financial literacy initiatives and other college resources. Since fall 2016, SMMO has presented to over 7,500 students on budgeting and credit and has sent interactive text messages to over 7,100 students with information and questions about topics such as financial aid reminders and requirements, money management tips, and registration deadlines.1 The initiatives, along with the office, are funded entirely by a $1.7 million U.S. Department of Education Strengthening Institutions Program grant. The grant, received in 2015, supports SMMO's mission of "providing accessible and relevant money management education, enabling students to make informed financial decisions."

The office has been extremely successful thus far in changing student behaviors: the number of students accessing credit reports is up, as is the number of students with written budgets.

According to data on SMMO initiatives collected by The Ray Marshall Center and ACC Student Engagement & Analytics, there was also an impact on persistence. The Ray Marshall Center found that students who received SMMO texts were 13 percentage points more likely to enroll in the fall of their sophomore year than students who did not receive the texts. ACC Student Engagement & Analytics estimated the impacts of the EDUC1300 workshops on persistence and also found a positive impact.

Although SMMO's efforts are largely focused on outreaching to FTACC students, other notable services, available to all students, include:

  • Financial Coaching: Students can meet with SMMO, Adventures in Education, and Foundation Communities coaches in-person or by phone or webcam.
  • Scholarship Workshops: Topics include how to maximize financial aid, and how to search and apply for scholarships.
  • Online Financial Education: Free modules and materials for ACC students, alumni, faculty, and staff on credit scores and cards, student loans, investing, and managing debt. For faculty wanting to use this as an extra credit assignment, each course provides the student a certificate of completion.

Financing the cost of college, and meeting basic needs like food and housing, can be difficult, but students can use financial aid to access money. After students receive these funds, SMMO can teach them how to budget this money, save for emergencies and other expenses, and make informed financial decisions to make college more affordable.

By Dora Elias McAllister, Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs content strategist // June 2019

 1 Source: AY18 SMMO Annual Report