Thanks to a generous College Access Challenge Grant, teaching University of Montana Western students how to manage their finances will be a campus-wide effort.
Meghan Flanary, a 2013 UMW graduate, started her job as Financial Literacy Program Coordinator in early January at her alma mater.
The Financial Literacy Program is made possible by a grant designated to the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education by Montana Governor Steve Bullock. The grant goal is to establish a campus-based approach to financial literacy that is consistent across the Montana University System.
In her new position, Flanary will work with students, as well as faculty and staff, and conduct campus-wide financial literacy training. She says the training has many components, including budgeting and spending, loan deferment and repayment, and enrollment choices and debt management. The overall goals are to reduce student loan debt, prevent default of loans, decrease time to complete degrees and to promote overall student success. Training is tailored to meet the needs of individual students and groups.
“We are trying to prepare students for the workforce and teach them that what they do now has ramifications for their future,” says Flanary.
Flanary has kicked off the program by meeting with various student clubs and will soon be holding floor meetings in the dorms and travelling to several distance education sites to meet with students. In addition, her office has hosted a webinar for staff. Her goal is to reach as many of the freshmen, TRIO students and first-generation college students as possible to educate them about ways to manage personal finances and loans. There is also a financial literacy Moodle course available for students.
“We are focusing on incoming students, but recognize that students who will graduate soon have financial literacy needs as well,” says Flanary.
Montana Western’s grant proposal was co-authored by Ilene Cohen, Director of Student Success, and Ricki Jones, Director of Financial Aid. The proposal was based on institutional enrollment and need, and scored a 96 percent, which was the highest of any campus financial literacy proposal. The exceptional score meant the University of Montana Western received the maximum amount of funding possible. Nine other MUS campuses received the grant.
As the program expands, focus will be on fields with high debt rate and low post-grad income in addition to offering financial education across the board. Students who are almost at their borrowing limit will be targeted as well. The program will continue to focus on teaching students how to budget and ways to save money through financial management.
“I say it’s like healthcare,” says Flanary. “We are trying to prevent problems rather than treat symptoms.”