Money Matters on Campus: Driving Student Success Through Financial Literacy

Best practices for student success through financial literacy

Rising student debt and lack of financial literacy among college students are issues of growing concern to higher ed leaders, particularly those focused on non-academic drivers of student success. In this web seminar, presenters discussed the findings of a major national study conducted by Everfi Inc. and sponsored by Higher One Inc., Money Matters on Campus: How Early Attitudes and Behaviors Affect the Financial Decisions of First-Year College Students. The study surveyed 65,000 first-time college students across the U.S. to gain a better understanding of the significant predictors of both positive and negative financial behaviors among young, college-bound adults. Attendees also learned best practices from innovative colleges and universities that are driving student success through financial literacy programs.

Mary Johnson
Director of Financial Literacy and Student Aid Policy
Higher One

Research supports the idea that there are three pillars of student success:

Financial. Thirty-one percent of students who drop out of college do so for financial reasons. We also know, from our work with millions of students nationwide, that they need assistance with managing their money more effectively and with making day-to-day financial decisions that will help them succeed in school.

Engagement. The greatest impact on success is when academic, interpersonal and even some of the extracurricular or co-activities are mutually reinforced for students. It takes the whole institution to help a student succeed. Successful students are the ones who are involved with other students, other faculty and other staff.

Academic. It’s not just about advising students on what courses to take. It’s also about providing students with clear guidelines on what they have to do to be successful. Even something simple, such as requiring students to set an academic goal, can have a big impact.

At Higher One, we were interested in learning more about the financial knowledge, attitudes and behaviors students were coming to college with. We partnered with EverFi to survey 65,000 first-year college students about these topics. The survey included over 70 questions about credit cards, banking, financial behaviors, attitudes toward money, planned behavior in the future, and financial knowledge.

Twenty-nine percent of the students who took the survey already had a credit card before coming to campus, and most of those had more than one. Almost 25 percent had over $1,000 in credit card debt before getting to campus. Four percent of those reported that they had over $5,000 in credit card debt, and about 4 percent said that they had been late on a credit card payment at least once.

We found several predictors of financial behavior. For example, students with cautious financial attitudes were more likely to follow a budget, less likely to withdraw from college, less likely to participate in high-risk debt behavior, more likely to have a checking account, and more likely to pay loans on time and in full. Students with spending compulsion are less likely to have contact with a bank, less likely to pay their loans on time, more likely to participate in high-risk debt behavior, and more likely to be late on bills.

Second-term students were even more likely to have a credit card, or to have more than one credit card, and to have paid their credit card bill late at least once. Basically, they were less financially responsible than new students coming in, which may seem counterintuitive.

Students attending public colleges were a little less responsible with their spending and credit cards, but they were more averse to debt. Students attending private institutions had the highest levels of student debt and were more likely to have a credit card and to have had it longer.

Students who came from the 17 states that require a financial literacy course in high school scored significantly higher than their peers and were significantly more responsible in their behaviors. They tend to be more cautious, less fixated on positions, and more averse to incurring debt.

For a full copy of the report, visit

Bryan Ashton
Assistant Director
Office of Student Life, Student Wellness Center
The Ohio State University

Our average student loan debt is around $26,000, which is below the national average. So when we were developing our program, we focused more on the holistic student financial experience. We realized that there was a lot of attention being paid to the debt side of the conversation, but we weren’t seeing much conversation around the day-to-day financial life of a student.

Thirty-six percent of our incoming students report that they are already beginning to feel some form of financial stress. Sixty-nine percent of all our undergraduates reported being stressed about their finances in general, and about 49 percent of our students worry about being able to pay monthly bills. About 34 percent of our student body reports that the amount of money they owe causes them a large or extreme amount of stress. That stress, in our eyes, could cross over into negatively affecting the academic process.

About 23 percent of our students reports that they are not confident that they will be able to pay off the debt that they have accumulated as a student. That hints at the idea of default intentions—they’re beginning to perceive what their debt load will look like.

Our department is housed in The Student Wellness Center, which is unique. One of the things we believe is that wellness, as a concept, is foundational to what we do in student affairs. All of these different dimensions of wellness are interconnected. If the financial component of a student’s life is off, that spills into their academic and personal lives as well.

When we look at comprehensive support, we try to touch on four main areas:

1) We want to develop financial capability in our student body. We want to build the financial knowledge base of our students to help create healthy attitudes and behaviors when it comes to finances.

2) We want to provide resources to help students cope with financial stress, reduce financial stress, and begin to understand some of the drivers of financial stress.

3) We want to anticipate and offer “just in time” education. We believe in providing financial education over the student lifecycle. There are certain concepts that will be much more relevant to a student at different points in time. And that relevance can help create buy-in from the student as they sit in a workshop or a one-on-one appointment with a peer coach.

4) We want to support students in financial crisis through a variety of means.

We do all of this by providing education over a few main delivery mechanisms. We offer an iTunes U course that provides short videos of different financial concepts. We also deliver financial education through EverFi’s transit product, which follows more of a curricular path. A student can take a series of modules on a variety of topics, and we have the ability to score and track their progress.

We also offer workshops focused on a wide variety of topics. One of the important things about them is that we don’t host any standalone workshops. We go to student organizations, athletic teams, classes and other groups only when we’re invited. That guarantees us an audience to interact with and saves us time in recruiting students.

The final delivery mechanism we have is our one-on-one peer coaching appointments. We have over 30 trained peer coaches who go through a semester-long training program. They volunteer with our office at least five hours a week, and are able to provide one-on-one support for understanding student loans, helping to budget, setting financial goals, and so on.

I think we’ll see close to 1,300 students go through this program this year. We’re excited to grow this in the future and to help deliver financial education to all of our students.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to


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