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Financial Literacy: How Innovative Schools Teach Money on Campus

Loans, Student Loans

In 2011, student debt hit $1 trillion and eventually outpaced credit card debt all together. As of now, the student loan default rate has been increasing.  In the 2011 fiscal year the percentage of borrowers who defaulted on their student loans within two years of their first payment was 9.1%, up from 8.8% in 2010. We’re seeing more and more students unable to repay their debt. This has become a national crisis, and many universities are beginning to understand that in order to ensure their graduates’ success, it not only requires a valuable education, but also a supplemental education on personal finances. With us today we have 3 Financial Literacy staff members from Ohio State University, Bellus Academy and Johnson & Wales University to share with us how they have handled the push towards Financial Literacy.

Ohio State University (OSU)–located in Columbus, Ohio, OSU serves over 50,000 students a year.
Bryan Ashton- a graduate of OSU, Bryan recently returned to his alma mater to help with the Financial Literacy program at OSU in the Office of Student Life, Scarlet and Grey.  The program launched six years ago.

Bellus Academy (BA)–headquartered in San Diego, Bellus is a multi-campus well known beauty & wellness academy.  It is a leading innovator in its field for it’s overall approach in education–it provides a business component to supplement the desired cosmetology study.

Lynelle Lynch—Lynelle spearheaded the Financial Literacy component at Bellus Academy, a well recognized institution within its industry.

Johnson & Wales (JWU)— with multiple locations around the country, Johnson and Wales is well known for career-oriented and hands-on instruction.

Kathi Tavares— Johnson & Wales has always taken a proactive approach to financial literacy.  Kathi Tavares has taken a facilitator’s role at the University leaving the content and programming to iGrad, a web based financial literacy program. The University’s Default Task Force oversees the use and promotion of iGrad within the university community.


On Program Structure:

There’s a wide variety of methods that Financial Literacy can be taught. It is such an important topic, however sometimes students aren’t interested in learning about these topics until its too late. So how does a school cultivate engagement? What should the structure of the program be to be heard by students? Let’s look at how these questions are answered at the following schools:

Bryan (OSU)

We’ve been around for six years in varying forms. We’ve had coordinators in here, sometimes we work through graduate students as coordinators. When we began, we started doing just one on one peer coaching. We took students from Personal Financial Planning and offered one on one counseling to other students. After it became very successful, we started opening it up to many different majors. We also started doing big presentations ad providing online help besides the one on one counseling.   We also started to look at different financial topics.

Each year we’ll see a little over 250 in the one on one coaching sessions—those are the ones where they come and sit in for 1 hour long and talk about their individual situations.  And then we will see around 2500 more through our large group presentation and reach even more through our online resources as well as our email content.

Lynelle (BA)

It’s incorporated into every program’s curriculum—it is part of their curriculum that they had to complete to graduate. It is a six module program.  You are given the basic fundamentals for the subject matter.  There are exercises within that and homework assignments.  For instance, with budgeting, one of the exercises may be to look at your groceries bill another may be to do a diary of everything you spend on everyday to figure out where your money is going.  A lot of times there are “aha” moments of where your money is going to coffee shops, going out, etc.  If students know where their money is going, they usually make better decisions with their money.  For a module that continuously evolves within the school and many times the student goes through it twice.  We promote it through contests, best practices are reinforced through posters  We’ve turned a scary subject into a fun learning activity so they are focused on maintaining their financial strengths.

Kathi (JWU)

JWU historically has promoted financial literacy with students, but we were not reaching all students.   We needed a product that we could use for all four campuses that was consistent.   The University created the University Default Task Force, using members from each campus, to look at this growing problem. The committee chose iGrad after looking at many financial literacy programs; it can be used for all students each and every year. It was by far the best service we found. It has a Facebook feel,, games, videos and articles that keep their students engaged and coming back for more!

When JWU students log on to iGrad, they log on to a co-branded site. They can add a picture and information about themselves. iGrad is content driven so they will actually tailor articles to students’ majors, locations and likes. There are nine modules that will help students learn about everything from student loans to investing. There is also a Town Hall component where students can ask questions that can be answered by other members of the iGrad community! iGrad will take our student from pre-enrollment to alumni.

On Outreach:

Outreach is one of the biggest challenges for any Financial Literacy program–how do you reach out to students to encourage them to tackle these tough topics?  Often times students will push away these subjects because the answers to their problems aren’t always ones they want to hear.  Making sure students know these services are available as well as pushing them towards using these resources are vital to any successful Financial Literacy program.  So we asked our guests “How do you make sure students hear about your program?”

Bryan (OSU)

We get our word out through static marketing—posters.  Also we try to engage our first year students as they come in through orientation.  We have a first year student series where students are required to attend 4-5 different topics.  We also get a lot of referrals from our residents about that.  Our financial aid office and our bursar’s office also heavily recommend our presentations and services.

Lynelle (BA)

We use things like posters and contests to keep students motivated to keep practicing good Financial habits.  For instance, for a school wide savings contest, we might tell students to share how much they’ve saved.  We’d put up jars on the campus and once people save they can come and add their numbers in.  There will be a number scale to keep track of the aggregate amount of money saved.  The winning class would win a pizza party.

Kathi (JWU)

We rolled out iGrad this past summer to our incoming Freshmen class. We even had a raffle for all first year students who logged on and completed a module! We created lesson plans that our ambassadors will use starting freshmen year and continuing each year until the student graduates. Students will see iGrad everywhere – and have access to it from pre-enrollment to alumni status.  Each and every member of the University is committed to financial literacy. We will embed financial literacy in the classroom, within presentations and mentorship programs.

 On Gauging Success:

Many schools have just recently instituted Financial Literacy programs to answer the rising student loan debt and in realization that many college students just don’t understand personal finances.  The real question that these schools will now be facing is “How do we measure success?”  As of now, many colleges are still trying to answer this question.  Here are our guests’ thoughts on gauging success for their Financial Literacy programs:

Bryan (OSU)

This is one area we’re always looking to improve.  Currently, we’re doing satisfaction based assessment.  We ask questions such as, “Are you satisfied with the level of service that you received?  Did you get the information that you felt you needed?”  We haven’t yet put into place a good system for looking at the knowledge transfer or the dissemination of information, but are looking into it.

Lynelle (BA)

We haven’t monitored this extensively, but we monitor if they’ve adopted the skills by the exercises we provide at the end of each module.   We know what score they get, if they do the exercises, if they succeed or fail.  I suppose we will truly know over time by our student’s ability to pay their loans and their overall success, which we do track.

Kathi (JWU)

It will probably take years before we notice the impact iGrad will have on our students.  We’re hoping that when we do our exit interviews in the spring, our students are more aware of what they’ve borrowed and have actually planned on how they’ll repay it. This is a long term project to which JWU is fully committed.


On What Students Should Learn:

Our Financial Literacy Administrators we spoke to weren’t surprised about the level of knowledge that students were entering college with.  So, we asked them–amongst all the topics in their modules–what would be the one topic, if you had only time to teach one–that you would choose to teach to students?

Bryan (OSU):

Financial goal setting. When we talk about budgeting, we talk about financial goal driven budgeting, whether it’s to own a home or to get a car in x amount of years. So if you’re setting any of those as goals, you have to understand how to go around building credit or a deposit of credit history to be able to get a loan at a lower rate. All of our topics comes back to financial goal setting. Like anything else in life, students need to learn to set and meet those goals to be able to achieve that financial success.

Lynelle (BA):

The one that had the most resonating impact with our students was the budgeting module. Most students aren’t aware of the value of money and the value of monitoring where their money goes. Once they start looking at these numbers, their financial decisions begin changing.

Kathi (JWU):

Definitely student loans and borrowing. We like to tell our students, “You have to live like a college student while you’re in college so you don’t have to live like one when you graduate.” They need to learn what repayment will look like and how to plan. Sometimes students over-borrow and do not understand how they’ll pay it back. We want our students to be informed borrowers for the future.


Ultimately Financial Literacy in our school systems is a growing movement meant to answer a national crisis. More and more of our students are entering college with sub-par financial knowledge and graduating with ever growing amounts of debt. We have to work as a community to ensure our students have enough financial knowledge to manage their finances and support themselves once they leave college. Hopefully by sharing what has been successful in our schools and amongst our students, we can encourage the adoption of Financial Literacy programs until it becomes a norm amongst our schools. In today’s economic climate, it’s just as important to make sure our students understand their finances to manage their accounts as it is for students to develop professional skills to obtain a job. A special thanks to all our guest experts and their respective schools for sharing their Financial Literacy story with us and our community.