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September 23, 2020

Managing Finances in an Economic Crisis: A Financial Literacy Workshop for College Students

This blog post is part of a series of recordings for the Student Success webinars College Promise will be holding throughout September 2020. This week, College Promise held a virtual panel discussion on topics like managing debt and finances, estimating total costs of attending college, and general financial literacy for navigating life to, through, and beyond college.

Megan Coval of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) moderated  a discussion with Shar-day Campbell, Enrollment Communications and Social Media Manager at Houston Community College; Bryan Ashton, Vice President of Community Investment & Government Affairs at Trellis Company; and Abigail Seldin, CEO of Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation. Their conversation focused on financial literacy and advice for students seeking to find ways to pay for college.

Talk to us at a high level about what you think some of the biggest financial pitfalls students encounter might be and give us one thing students can do to be proactive with their finances.

Campbell opened the conversation by explaining that money management is a continuous process and series of decisions rather than a discrete action. She recommended that students, “Really learn your sources of income and treat financial aid as a source of income, because at the end of the day, if you don't learn how it words, you run the risk of losing that source of income that you need to cover the cost of school.” Swift added that “when you receive an aid package or scholarship offer from your school, it's important to look at the full amount of your costs for what you need to be successful in college and, if your situation is not met by what your school is offering, to go back and have a conversation.” Ashton focused more on the utilization of resources that may already exist at the institution students attend, saying “I hope to bring some perspective today on how you can work with your college or university to ask for help and support.”

What are some ways that students can better manage their finances while they are attending school?

Swift recommended students to get a job on campus or make use of work study dollars and added that a great option for November would be working poll on campus which she noted could pay up to a few hundred dollars in some places. Campbell instructed students to reach out to their schools if they ever have a change in income in order to have financial aid packages reassessed, especially given current circumstances. “What we are seeing right now in how schools are leveraging COVID-19 money is there is a certain degree of flexibility, they can be leveraging it for technology grants, they can be leveraging it for basic needs assistance like your rent and your food.” Ashton took a slightly different approach and encouraged students to plan ahead with their resources even if they feel financially stable at the time as student finances are frequently volatile. He went on to address debt while in school, saying “Many of our students, on top of student loans, are using credit cards, some have payday loan debt. Take inventory of your full debt outstanding...and then it is about prioritizing. Some are things like student loans that we can push off until graduating- others like credit cards and payday lending are adding up very quickly and that interest is accumulating so those are things we might want to pay more attention to sooner." Dr. Kanter jumped in to offer some tangible advice to students. “Take all your credit cards out and get your balance, '' advised Dr. Kanter, “Write them all down and figure out how much you owe and your plan to pay it off. That way you'll know for every month what you owe and how many hours you'll have to work in order to cover it”.

Any final thoughts or reflections for the students?

Swift noted that the topic of the panel might have come off as ominous but wanted to reassure students, saying “I want to remind everyone that especially if you can go to a school like a local community college with a great graduation rate, college is a great deal. Those with college degrees earn more in the long run and it can really pay off.” Campbell reiterated this message by saying, “Don't let the process discourage you from the value of college. That value lies in increasing your earning potential, but you only gain that if you finish, so keep working towards finishing that degree. Stay encouraged, keep pushing.” Ashton addressed students directly, saying “Don't be afraid to ask for help. You may not get the help you need the first time you ask, but don’t be afraid to ask again or ask someone else. Never be afraid to advocate for yourself and don't be afraid to be a little vulnerable and really let others know the totality of your circumstances. Coval closed the webinar on a high note, observing that “there are really good people in these jobs as financial aid administrators to help you all and there can be lots of solutions to all the problems that exist, so we encourage you all to reach out.”

Throughout the virtual event, panelists shared many valuable resources for students looking to be more proactive about their finances:

Resources from Abigail Seldin, SHS Foundation:

Resources from Bryan Ashton, Trellis Company:

Resources from College Promise:

Recordings of our previous webinars:

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