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One of the eight dimensions of wellness, financial well-being, continues to be an important factor in student persistence and retention.
While in college, almost three-quarters (73 percent) of students have experienced financial difficulties, according to a May report from Trellis Research.
Financial wellness, or a lack thereof, can affect other student success indicators. Students with high levels of financial and basic needs insecurity had an inability to focus on coursework (48 percent), negatively impacting their academic performance, according to the Trellis report.
A September report from Tyton Partners revealed that 26 percent of students found managing financial aid or other debt was one of the most pressing challenges for themselves in the past term. While 90 percent of institutions surveyed by Tyton offer financial aid counseling, only 51 percent of students know about the service, and fewer than a quarter have used it.
“Increasing awareness of services to all employees and faculty is an additional area of focus that institutions need to incorporate into their efforts in program promotion,” says Kevin Sutton, director of financial wellness at East Carolina University.
East Carolina University established the Financial Wellness Hub to provide financial education, coaching and resources to empower students in managing financial resources effectively. Students can receive one-on-one financial coaching, attend presentations and or participate in other programming from the hub.
Kevin Sutton, director of financial wellness at ECU, offers three primary questions and three suggestions to help staff engage students in financial wellness conversations and promote overall success in college and in life beyond.
Understand the human element: The most critical part of scaling outreach and services for financial wellness is making it relevant to the recipient. To do so, staff can consider three key questions.
- Who is my audience? Financial wellness staff should identify unique needs of student populations. Students studying abroad or participating in an internship may need additional help preparing for their financial plans, and a coach can provide individual guidance. Student athletes may want to understand their options for name, image and likeness (NIL) deals. Off-campus residents may need additional guidance related to housing contracts and utilities.
- How will I deliver my content? Traditional formats include individual coaching, small-group workshops, presentations and tabling, but staff aren’t limited to these opportunities, Sutton says. Financial wellness education could involve faculty members sharing a slide prior to class or resource sharing at an all-staff meeting for campus employees. “These ideas at the very least let others know you exist and can make champions of people no matter their role that may find this to be an important topic for themselves, their teams and/or the students they engage with,” Sutton says.
- What information is crucial? Quality of service and building relationships with campus partners are more important that provide a wide range of workshop topics. Instead, staff should pick three to four essential aspects and grow from there. Sutton, for example, focuses on budgeting, credit, student loans and debts, and an intro to investment and retirement.
Throughout his work, Sutton has learned word of mouth is the best advertising method (though it can’t entirely replace fliers, ads or tabling, he says). To gain the community’s trust and references, Sutton recommends building relationships with stakeholders by providing great services, because “the more people that have a high-impact experience, the more likely they will become champions,” he says.
Best practices: For institutions looking to grow or scale their financial wellness services, Sutton offers some recommendations:
- Collect feedback. Staff should solicit feedback from students on the quality of services and students’ financial behaviors (“Have you made a budget prior to this appointment?”). These metrics can show change in students’ well-being and help dictate new offerings for the office. “Personally, I have even had students mention that our services have made an impact on them deciding not to commit suicide,” Sutton says. “We may never have known this impact if we didn’t ask them to share how they believe our services will impact their lives moving forward.”
- Open up appointments. Staff and alumni can be key promoters of services, because students often turn to them for advice and guidance. Financial wellness offices can build rapport with these groups by offering appointments to institutional employees and graduates. Sometimes these relationships translate to financial gifts to the institution, as well.
- Make swag informational. Creative giveaways can remind students and campus partners of financial terms and services available to them. Some fun games Sutton suggests: creating a “Price Is Right” event with campus items to gauge students’ financial knowledge or a game of darts with the dartboard covered in credit score numbers to start conversations about credit.
- Be strategic with time. While tabling on main campus might provide a lot of touch points with students to advertise services, utilization may not happen at the same rate. Instead, staff should focus on institutional goals and collect data that reflect those targets.
Do you have a wellness tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.