Montana college students earning financial education online

Nonprofit organization uses Financial Avenue from Inceptia on multiple campuses

At colleges across Montana, the nonprofit Student Assistance Foundation (SAF) provides students with the knowledge and tools to pursue and fund their postsecondary education. Using proceeds from its student loan servicing business and from its own fundraising efforts, the Helena-based organization offers grants, scholarships, community outreach, counseling, and training on financial education. As part of its financial education outreach efforts, SAF provides financial literacy services to a variety of students, including first-time students, first-time loan borrowers, students struggling academically or on warning with the financial aid office, and those who have successfully appealed a financial aid suspension.

“Financial education is an important part of default prevention on campus,” says Mary Howard, SAF financial literacy program manager and general manager, western outreach. “By providing financial education to students in school, we hope to positively affect their student loan repayment habits as well as spending and saving behaviors when they graduate.” Her outreach office on the Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC) campus at Kalispell works closely with financial aid personnel to help students avoid financial difficulties. SAF has outreach offices at nine participating institutions across the state; each office provides financial education and outreach to other colleges and high schools in the area. SAF was looking for an affordable financial literacy program as part of its state-wide outreach efforts, but wanted to be sure it could show quantifiable results.

Through membership in the National College Access Network (NCAN), SAF leadership learned about Inceptia’s Financial Avenue program. Financial Avenue offers financial literacy courses, tips, articles and resources to help schools and organizations show students how to take control of money management and the impact financial literacy has on their life. Six online courses—as well as 10 mini-modules—are available, focusing on the topics of budgeting, paying for college, identity theft, credit cards, credit history, and contracts. Besides the courses themselves, Financial Avenue also gives schools and organizations support to spread the word about the program and stay up-to-date on progress. The marketing toolkit includes email templates, brochures, flyers, message boards, and reporting tools to monitor school and student performance. From August to September of 2013, SAF launched Financial Avenue at the FVCC campus. Within the first few weeks, 88 students were enrolled in Financial Avenue and had completed more than 170 courses. Students were required to pass the post-test with a score of 70 percent or better: 30 percent had a C; 38 percent had a B; and 32 percent had an A. But, the most dramatic success came in the change in score between the required pre- and post-tests.

Students who completed the Paying for College course, for example, showed a nearly 50 percent increase in scores, and students taking the Credit Cards course showed a nearly 40 percent gain in scores. For all courses combined, students showed close to a 24 percent gain. Howard says she appreciates that Financial Avenue is hands-on learning—where students have to complete the courses with all the steps in order—and that the results and evaluation reports show the courses are relevant to students. “It was a fabulous report. I was pleasantly surprised to see the students’ positive results and comments. I don’t think we could have asked for much better outcomes,” she says. Since implementing the program, SAF has expanded Financial Avenue enrollment to an additional 279 college students on multiple campuses. Going forward, the organization hopes to also bring the program to Montana high schools.

“We can use this program on a one-on-one basis, too. Maybe a student is having a problem budgeting their financial aid refund or even budgeting for college. We can show them how to log in to Financial Avenue to get the help they need,” she says. “There’s an excellent tool provided to help them make their money stretch throughout the semester.”

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