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Financial Wellness: An Investment in Students

Student Success Financial Wellness
October 10, 2019 Amy Geist NASPA

Last week, registration opened for the 2020 NASPA Conferences on Student Success in Higher Education. This experience brings four conferences together to provide a singular focus to increase student success, from a variety of perspectives and approaches. The integration of these four conferences, Assessment, Persistence, and Data AnalyticsClosing the Achievement GapFirst-generation Student Success; and Student Financial Wellness, means participants can engage with a variety of colleagues to think about how to dismantle barriers to student success.

Attendees can attend sessions from any conference, which is a great benefit. The 2019 Student Financial Wellness Conference offered about 20 sessions and one pre-conference workshop, designed to foster conversations about how institutions can and do integrate some kind of financial wellness programming, support, or decisions. By creating a more focused track, with the option for participants to interweave ideas from across the other three conferences, the NASPA Conferences on Student Success in Higher Education creates synergy and connection.

Many institutions across the country have added financial wellness or financial coaching and preparation to their resources for students, including peer coaching programs like the ones at Ohio State UniversityNew Mexico State UniversityTexas A&M, and Austin Community College. Nonprofits like the National Endowment for Financial Education foster engagement on this topic through research and collaborate with institutions across the country to develop  courses to effectively serve their students. With the cost of college still a barrier, and many situations leading to students and their families experiencing financial distress, it’s about time more institutions increase their efforts to develop the financial wellness of students.

The takeaways I have from the conversations at the 2019 conference are that we need to talk about financial wellness more than we are and what we need to normalize the conversation. Thinking back on some of the topics from the 2019 Student Financial Wellness Conference, several reflections for campus practice come to mind, but it comes down to the need for sustained and thriving partnerships across the institution.

  • For students deciding on careers or graduate study, do conversations with advising staff include the financial realities of different types of professional and graduate fields, as well as the financial impact of changing their major? Are those in an advising role facilitating discussion of choices and opportunities to minimize debt for students while pursuing undergraduate and advanced studies, especially for those heading into lower-paying professional roles?
  • In what ways are faculty, residential life, recreation and wellness, and other campus staff informed about, and prepared to refer students to resources on campus where they can get financial education or support? Do the campus professionals who are most in contact with students know how to recognize signals of financial distress to encourage a conversation and make referrals to campus resources like a food pantry or emergency fund?
  • Are conversations about affordability and financial wellness tied into the university mission? Is financial wellness considered as a factor in student retention?
  • What kind of options could exist for students experiencing financial challenges to participate in non-academic elements of the college experience that typically carry fees or ticket charges?
  • How can predictive analytics or collecting and studying data about your students help to determine what kind of support is needed, what students are most concerned about, and what resources are working most effectively? How will you know if your efforts are successful? Who will partner with you to study the data and assess what’s working and what’s not, or help devise a new approach if something isn’t working?

I hope you join us at the 2020 Student Financial Wellness Conference, and Conferences on Student Success in Higher Education. Bring back great ideas and questions for your colleagues, and bring financial wellness to the forefront of the student success efforts at your institution.