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A desperate need for financial literacy

SALT provides the education needed to lower student debt loads
University Business, May 2012

Financial aid officer Valerie Patnaude was so dedicated to teaching her Rivier College students how to manage money that she posted financial literacy newsletters in campus bathroom stalls. When the posters started to disappear, she knew the students were desperate for information.

“They may not be getting help at home to learn about credit scores and debt management, or they’re not listening to their parents,” said Patnaude of the students at her Nashua, New Hampshire, liberal arts college. “They leave college not only with high loan debt, but high credit card debt, too.”

When she learned in the fall of 2011 that New Hampshire has the highest student loan debt in the United States, “it forced us to look even further at how to help our students manage their debt.”

Enter SALT™.

The program, from the nonprofit organization American Student Assistance® (ASA), offers education debt management and financial literacy to current students and alumni through in-person and on line encounters. By subscribing to SALT and encouraging students to sign up, educators provide proactive communication about student loan repayment options; one-on-one repayment counseling; a personalized online dashboard to track all federal and private student loans in one place and to compare payment options; a highly interactive web financial education curriculum; multiple “self-serve” web tools and calculators to assist with budgeting; in-person group financial education training at their higher education institution; and advocacy and assistance with resolving complex student loan-related problems.

Rivier was one of the first of 55 colleges that have started using SALT since its December 2011 launch. Eighty-five percent of the school’s 2,300 students receive financial aid.

“It’s a school responsibility to educate them (on financial issues),” Patnaude said.

Though she oversaw a robust financial literacy program that includes lunch-and-learn sessions on various financial issues that apply to college students, and a financial Jeopardy game in freshman seminars, before subscribing to SALT she didn’t have enough internal staff to keep tabs on all the students who may have been struggling to repay their loans. For example, it can take 45 minutes of one-on-one counseling to help a former student avoid default, Patnaude said.

“ASA® fills the gap. It’s very proactive rather than reactive,” she added.
Rivier students receiving aid directly from the college are strongly encouraged to use SALT. But Pat-naude hopes all financial aid recipients will take advantage of it.
The greatest challenge, she said, is “showing them what’s in it for them.”

So she provides incentives, such as entering students who attend SALT workshops into raffles. At the end of the 45-minute programs, she pulls a name out of a hat and gives out $250.

“It’s a very effective way of introducing them to SALT,” she said.

She hopes such workshops will create buzz around the school. She also hopes current students will use the program to learn about their financial responsibilities before taking on more debt. And, most importantly, she hopes to see the results. She will track her students’ average debt loads to see if they go down while using SALT. Currently, students carry an average of $35,000 in loans after graduating.

“Can we as colleges do more to keep student loan debt down?” Patnaude said. “I think so.”

For more information please visit SCHOOLS.SALTMONEY.ORG.

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