Financial literacy: Mandatory or voluntary?
“If you build it, they probably won’t come.” That’s Sara Wilson’s take on the launch of the typical campus financial literacy program. As financial literacy project manager at USA Funds, she knows firsthand how many students participate and what they think later as they look back.
While numerous post-graduation surveys by the company show students regret not learning more about personal finance while they were in school, they also tend not to access financial literacy information when it’s offered on a completely voluntary basis, Wilson says.
“They aren’t going to seek out this information until they’re already in trouble—until they’ve already made a bad decision and they are starting to feel the aftermath of that decision.”
Financial literacy should be an automatic part of the financial aid process or academic curriculum—or both, she says.
Kris Alban, vice president of iGrad, has seen evidence that if you make them come, they’ll stick around for more.
“We had a few schools that made a few of the initial modules mandatory,” Alban says. “What they found is that they had a very high percentage of students who went on to complete additional modules that were not mandatory or incentivized. Educating students first on what they don’t know … makes them hungry for learning more.”
At California State University, Bakersfield, which has an iGrad system on its campus, student response was low until the program became a requirement in the first-year core curriculum, says financial aid director Ron Radney. Now, even business professors are requiring some of their students to complete a couple of modules in the online course.
“What they ended up finding out,” Radney says, “was that students did all of the modules, because they were very interested once they got into it.”