Thomas W. Durso
Indiana University

Student debt being the concern that it is, Phil Schuman was pleasantly surprised to discover that students at Indiana University—where he serves as director of financial literacy—were interested in learning more about their finances.

But they weren’t discussing money with their friends.

And students tend to make less informed financial decisions when they don’t seek guidance from their peers. That, in turn, is likely to leave them deeper in debt.

“We need to be fostering a culture where talking about finances is completely acceptable,” Schuman says.

Indiana University is certainly playing its part. In 2012 it created the Office of Financial Literacy to educate students in money matters. Through its MoneySmarts program, the office provides tools designed to strengthen financial know-how before, during and after college.

These resources span formats and media, including an interactive website and a required financial education module for freshmen. The program also offers personal finance workshops and one-on-one education.

The focus is on relating to students—for example, a weekly MoneySmarts podcast is titled “How Not to Move Back in With Your Parents”—and IU students on the MoneySmarts Team deliver peer-to-peer financial advice.

Schuman and his team serve all seven of the university’s campuses. He notes that since “everybody understands that it’s relevant to them,” academic and administrative departments across the institution want to participate.

The ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of borrowing by IU students, as well as the number of students who borrow. In its first year of activity, the program saw 11 percent decreases in both figures. Website visits reached nearly 32,000 between January 2013 and November 2014, and the MoneySmarts podcast has topped 42,000 play requests.

The MoneySmarts team hopes to make students realize, through education and conversation, that success isn’t based on living in luxury while they’re at IU. Simply getting by offers them a financial leg up, Schuman says.

“If they’re surviving college and doing what they’re supposed to do, they’re putting themselves in great shape for when they graduate."