The mental wellness of students at Trine University can be affected by their financial situation. Unfortunately, many of the students who have student loan debt lack understanding of this debt and have little idea of how to deal with it. This could cause students to feel stressed about their financial situation, which could distract them from their school work. In order to combat this issue, we are proposing that the school enact “Scootin’ Toward Undergraduate Financial Freedom,” also known as STUFF, a four-semester program designed to help students understand and address their financial situation. The program includes CHAT events hosted by the Society for Financial Awareness (SOFA) to enhance students’ financial knowledge. The program will also involve personal financial counseling sessions, performed by existing staff from the business office and financial aid office, to assist students in planning the repayment of their student loans. Participation in these services is optional for the students, but the services will be greatly advertised. This program is capable of helping all the students at Trine University as they move towards graduation. The estimated total cost of this program is roughly 11,000 dollars. We feel that this program will give students the opportunity to enhance their financial understanding, plan for the future, and ease the stress caused by their student loan debt.
Team Qualifications and Experience
Our team consists of six talented freshmen and a very qualified advisor Dr. Marek Kolar. According to Trine University’s website, Dr. Marek Kolar, is the Interim Associate Dean, Chair, and Assistant Professor for Trine’s Ketner School of Business as our advisor. He possesses a Bachelor of Business Administration from Northwood University, a Master of Arts from Western Michigan University, and a Doctor of Philosophy from Michigan State University1.
Individual qualifications are as follows:
He is majoring in Design Engineering Technology. He is the treasurer of the Associate Member spring class of 2015 in the Delta Chi Fraternity. He graduated high school with a 3.8 GPA. He will graduate with student debt.
He is the president of Associate Member process of the Delta Chi Fraternity. He is a Mechanical Engineering Major. He was in the National Honors Society. He achieved a 3.9 GPA in high school. He will graduate with student debt.
He is an Eagle Scout and has been the Senior Patrol Leader of Boy Scout Troop 13 in Pioneer, Ohio. He was valedictorian of his high school class with a 4.0 GPA and is currently a mechanical engineering major involved in the Christian Campus House and band at Trine. He will graduate with student debt and has started repaying his loans.
She is a Mechanical Engineering major, with a 3.5 GPA. She has participated in financial planning for students produced by Dave Ramsey. She will be leaving college with student debt.
She is an Accounting major. She achieved a 3.89 GPA in high school and currently has a 3.30 GPA at Trine. She is a member of the Gamma Omega chapter of Theta Phi Alpha. She has completed financial planning classes through her church and her high school. She currently has student loans and has already begun repaying them back.
He is a Mechanical Engineering major. He achieved a 4.6 GPA in high school and currently has a 3.9 GPA. He has 100+ hours work experience in a concession stand. He will graduate with student debt.
Trine University is seeking a program that will improve the health and wellness of its student body. One type of wellness that can be improved is financial wellness. Specifically, students need to be more aware and understanding of their personal student debt and how to deal with this debt during and after college in order to effectively repay their loans and avoid negative situations such as loan default. This proposal is for a program that will help students understand their student loan debt and provide them with useful information for creating a plan to repay their student loans.
The lack of awareness pertaining to student loan debt and how to deal with it is a problem for both Trine and the nation. The Washington Post says that about 28 percent of college freshman around the U.S. who use federal loans do not think that they have any debt even though they do2. According to Sonya Stinson’s article “Debt Lessons,” outstanding student loan debt in 2010 totaled 830 billion dollars3. In 2012, 71 percent of all students who graduated from four-year colleges had student debt. Comparatively, 75 percent of graduates from private nonprofit colleges had student loans, and the average student debt for these graduates was 32,300 dollars, which is 15 percent higher than it was in 20084. Most private loans involve a payment plan of either 10 or 25 years5. If students had a better understanding of their debt situation, they would be able to handle the repayment of their loans more effectively, possibly even reducing the amount of time they need to repay their loans.
Trine students have their fair share of student loan debt. For the 2012-13 school year, the average amount of federal student loans for an undergraduate student was 6,459 dollars6. Eighty-six percent of 2013 Trine graduates exited with debt, with the average debt being 28,742 dollars7. Comparatively, 85 percent of the students we surveyed reported that they would graduate with debt. As seen in Figure 1 located below, 64 percent of the students said they are paying for their education with subsidized loans, and 59 percent said they have unsubsidized loans. According to Figure 2 below, 39 percent of these students stated that they only have some, little, or no knowledge of their debt. Although a majority of the students surveyed have at least a reasonable understanding of their student loan debt, all students should have an adequate understanding of their debt and be able to address it.
Although Trine does have some programs to assist students in dealing with their financial situation, there is much more that could be done. Trine requires all students who borrow Federal Stafford Loans to complete entrance and exit counseling. Both portions of this counseling involve a short online course about student loans8. Additionally, Trine has a student advocate, Deb McHenry, who gives answers to students’ questions “no matter the concern”9 This may include directing students to more appropriate places for advice on certain matters. The description for the student advocate does not mention directly helping students with their financial situation, so this is unlikely to be a viable place for students to go with financial questions. Furthermore, as shown in Figure 3 below, 29 percent of the surveyed students who will graduate with debt reported that they do not know who to talk to about their student loan debt.
According to Bernie Sanders, a member of the Senate Budget committee, Student loan debt is becoming a bigger and bigger issue in America, and the negative effects are piling up. From a study conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, the average student loan debt held by people under 30 years old, has risen by 60 percent in the last 7 years. Not only that, the average 2012 college graduate had a student loan debt amount of almost 30,000 dollars, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. The Wall Street Journal states that the class of 2014 is “the most indebted class ever” with a debt average approaching 33,000 dollars. Households who are debt-free are more likely to have a savings for home and retirement, than households managing monthly payments for student loans. Former students with high levels of student loan debt could face narrower career choices than those without debt issues. Student loan debt can negatively impact the U.S. economy. Usually, young people are a large source of economic activity, as they start careers and set up households. College graduates have trouble saving up for a down payment on a home, due to debt issues. High monthly payments on student loan debt can prevent many people from qualifying for a mortgage, which can impact the housing industry simply because it depends on first-time home buyers as a major consumer group. Student loans have the highest delinquency rate of all loan types. In a Household Debt and Credit Report conducted by The New York Federal Reserve discovered that Americans hold more student loan debt than auto or credit card debt, and the amount of delinquent student loan balances exceeds the amount of delinquent credit card balances, auto loans, mortgages, and home equity loans. The St. Louis Federal Reserve stated that “given that the number of student loans and the overall amount of student loan debt have ballooned in recent years, student loans represent a potentially severe problem for the United States”10 .
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Trine University’s default rate from 2011 is 8.5 percent, this is equivalent to 54 students who have pushed back their loan repayment plans or have not yet began to pay on their loans. Looking back on recent years, Trine’s default rate has been increasing11. Without a change this number will most likely continue to increase unless Trine makes a change. This proposed program is trying to reduce this rate by educating undergraduates to make Trine University more appealing to potential students. This will also help the undergraduates so that they are better prepared for life with more educated money management skills. This will also increase the amount of prospective students to want to come to Trine and help the University grow because of the lower amount of student debt.
Our program involves having a CHAT event, held in two sessions, near the beginning of each semester hosted by representatives from the non-profit organization Society for Financial Awareness (SOFA) to raise awareness of college debt problems. SOFA is a non-profit organization based in San Diego that has the main goal of educating the country on good financial practices. They are willing to travel to colleges and give speeches on debt awareness free of charge. Additionally, 36 percent of students who said they would graduate with debt reported they would likely or definitely go to a CHAT event about addressing student debt.
We also want to hire a professional personal finance advisor to teach certain Trine staff about financial advising practices so that they could help students with their financial questions and concerns one on one. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a personal finance advisor is a person who educates clients about money investments and potential risks. They also advise potential changes with one’s money management to accommodate for life changes, such as graduating college. They usually only monitor accounts and rarely meet with clients, unless something changes with the client’s financial standing causing them to reevaluate the investments that could be made12. The personal financial advisor would train staff in Trine’s business office so that they may work with students one-on-one in order to draft personalized plans the students may follow to repay their loans. In essence, the trained staff will act as personal finance advisors to students when necessary. In the survey that was conducted, 70 percent of participating students who will graduate with debt said they would like to have a financial advisor on campus. This shows that there is significant interest in having a personalized source of financial advice on campus.
This type of program has been proven beneficial at similar campuses. For example, information received via email from Paul Witte, the director of Scholarships and Financial Aid, Calvin College has two departments that work closely together but have distinct roles. They have a Financial Service department which manages all billings, payments, payment plans and overdue accounts. The other department they have is the Financial Aid department, this department helps students who are struggling financially and have kept current with their tuition bill. Calvin College has a number of financial aid counselors and coordinators as well as front desk staff to assist students one on one with questions they have throughout the year. They have reports of definite benefits across their campus with this one on one interaction. They often discuss unique circumstances and assist the specific student with either aid or advice, often with life choices as well13. STUFF is similar to Calvin’s program in that there will be an increase in financial counseling at Trine, but our program also involves spoken events.
The cost of implementing this program should be under 15,000 dollars. This relatively low cost is in large part thanks to the Society of Financial Awareness, an organization that would be willing to speak at the CHAT events for free. Trine would still have to provide for transportation, room/board, and meals for the SOFA representatives, but we would still save a lot of money left in the budget.
Our proposed program is geared towards educating Trine’s student body on their present and future financial responsibilities. Our program is a multifaceted approach that targets several different aspects of student debt financial awareness.
Trine has a student advocate program that helps students with any problems they may have. However, this service may not have the financial specialty to efficiently help students with questions about their debt. Trine also requires freshman to go to a financial counseling session when they start college, but that won’t help them when they have questions later on. Therefore, the first phase of our program involves hiring financial advising professionals to come to Trine and train a few selected members of the staff to be able to advise any student that comes to them for help with a financial question. Four staff members will be trained so that there will be at least one available during all business hours. Training four staff members allows for easy distribution of advising duties taking into consideration the staff members’ already busy schedules. With an attendance goal of 100 student visits per semester, a 25 to one ratio of students to advisors is reasonable. Preferably the staff members will be selected from positions that already involve counseling or finances. The staff members will need to attend three two-hour training classes two weeks before the start of the semester in which the program will be launched. After their initial training, the selected staff members will be required to attend one two-hour class at the beginning of each semester in order to keep their advising skills up to date. This phase of our program is justified because 70 percent of the students that reported they would be graduating with debt said that they would like to have an official financial advisor here on campus.
The second phase of our program calls for the hosting of a CHAT event each semester that will address problems students may have with their finances, such as finding and paying for loans and making a long-term financial plan. Trine does not currently have any events that address student finances, and these CHAT events will provide the incentives needed to get students to attend. The CHAT event for each semester will be presented in both an afternoon and evening session for a total of two events per semester in order to accommodate for the students’ varying and busy schedules. Advertisements for the CHAT events will be posted at least two weeks in advance so that most students should be aware of them. Additionally, incoming students will be informed about the CHAT events when they attend SOAR. As an added incentive, piggy banks filled with 10 dollar Amazon gift cards will be presented to the first 23 students who enter the doors of Fabiani Theater. Two more piggy banks that contain 100 dollar Amazon gift cards each will be given away in a drawing. The CHAT events themselves should prove to be relatively inexpensive to put on. SOFA, The Society for Financial Awareness, has confirmed that they would be willing to speak at these events free of charge. Trine would only be responsible for paying for the speakers’ transportation, room/board, and meals. We believe that the events would be well attended because 36 percent of the surveyed students that will graduate with debt said that they would either probably attend or definitely attend a CHAT event on student finances.
Programs similar to this have been enacted at other universities and institutions. Sonya Stinson’s “Debt Lessons” discusses a few of these cases. Syracuse University in New York hosts the program “I Otto Know This!” named for their mascot Otto the Orange. The program involves financial literacy workshops and is linked to the institution’s Money Awareness Program (MAP), which gives students the opportunity to have their loans replaced with university grants by attending one financial literacy session per semester until they graduate. California State University has an interactive financial literacy web page and integrates financial literacy into its student orientation and first-year core curriculum14. As reported by Caralee Adams in “Students Alerted to Loan Debt,” Rivier College in New Hampshire started its financial literacy program with a few small money-management workshops, and due to the number of students that attended, they now offer as many as three workshops each month, incentivizing students with prize raffles15. Rivier also has a Financial Aid Services Team that assists students in finding ways to finance their education and in planning how to repay these sources.
Trine is in need of such a financial literacy program. As seen in Figure 2, about 12 percent of the surveyed students that reported they will be graduating with debt said they have very little or no knowledge of their debt. That roughly translates to 200 students at Trine, assuming that the survey is representative of the on-campus population. Besides that, another 30 percent said that they had only some knowledge of their debt, so there is plenty of room for improvement. Therefore, the main goal of our program is to increase the number of Trine students that are financially aware. Financial awareness is a state of mind that allows one to keep track of how much money they have, how much money they owe, and how to best use their money to achieve specific goals. One of these goals should be paying back any debt that is owed. Our program should also cause students to appreciate Trine more because they will feel that Trine is trying to help them with their debt and as a result erase any stress stemming from financial issues. Lastly, our program will provide students with the knowledge they need to avoid risky spending habits through the CHAT events hosted by SOFA.
In order for this program to be successful, students’ awareness of and ability to address their student loan debt must increase. This is a difficult characteristic to measure, so the success would be based on responses of students after enacting the program. The CHAT events would be considered successful if each event had an attendance of 400 students total for the afternoon and evening sessions and a significant amount of students respond positively on a survey about the events. A variety of advertising methods would be utilized to incentivize students to attend the CHAT events. To start, the events counting toward CHAT credit is an incentive, as students are required to attend eight CHAT events to graduate. As seen in Figure 4 above, 52 percent of students surveyed that reported that they will graduate with debt said they would respond to people dressed in money suits riding scooters, and 29 percent said they would respond people handing out fliers. Thus, these would be the primary methods used. Students would also be sent emails about the events. As an additional incentive, the first 25 students to enter Fabiani for the CHAT event will receive a piggy bank with an Amazon gift card in it.
The other part of our plan, the financial advising, also plays a large part in the success of our program. We will measure the success of the advising by keeping a record of the number of students who use the service and by administering a short survey at the end of each appointment in order to determine if it was helpful. We would like at least 100 students to utilize this financial advising opportunity per semester, and at least 75 percent of these students to respond positively on the survey in order to label the advising appointments as successful.
If our program is approved, we will complete the following tasks. The tasks are ordered chronologically based on when they would be completed.
1. Hire professional financial advisor(s) to train staff members and set up dates for the training sessions.
We will find and contact a nearby financial advisor who would be willing to be hired to train the selected staff members in financial counseling practices. Then, we will contact members of the Trine staff in order to determine which of them would be willing to train to become financial advisors. Last, we will determine when the best time to hold the training sessions would be, based on the staff members’ schedules.
2. Select staff members to be trained to be financial advisors.
Staff from the business office, financial aid office, and professors from the Ketner School of Business will be asked to volunteer to become financial advisors.
3. Purchase money suits, scooters, and piggy banks.
Two money suits and two scooters will be purchased for advertising purposes. Two hundred piggy banks will be purchased to be used for CHAT event incentives (see Appendix D for images).
4. Contact SOFA and set up CHAT events.
Two representatives from SOFA will be requested to come to Trine, and the events will be scheduled.
5. Hold training sessions.
Each selected staff member will need six hours of training, completed by participating in three two-hour sessions, during the week of August 24th.
6. Begin advertising for financial counseling and open the counseling service for students.
As part of the advertising, the residential advisors of each building will give a letter about the financial counseling to all students when they move in. Additionally, emails will be sent out to all main campus students.
7. Administer survey to each student who uses financial counseling service.
After a student meets with a financial advisor, they will be asked to take a survey about the session, reporting what they found to be most helpful about the meeting and whether or not they have a better understanding of their financial situation. This will continue over the entire two years of the program.
8. Begin advertising for CHAT events.
The CHAT events will be advertised by printing and placing flyers around campus, especially in the University Center. Students will also be reminded through email. Finally, students will be paid to dress up in money suits and hand out fliers in two-hour shifts during the three days leading up to the event.
9. Hire student workers for CHAT sessions.
Two student workers will be employed to put money in the piggy banks and pass out the piggy banks and any additional information as students enter Fabiani Hall.
10. Transport SOFA representatives.
The SOFA representatives will be flown to Fort Wayne from San Diego and provided with two rooms at the Holiday Inn Express in Fremont, Indiana.
11. Hold CHAT events.
Each CHAT event will be presented in two sessions, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, to increase the total attendance.
12. Administer surveys at the end of the CHAT events.
After each CHAT session, attending students will be asked to complete a survey in which they will provide information pertaining to the topics they had questions about, the topics they learned about and found useful, and whether or not the event helped them to better understand their financial situation.
13. Evaluate surveys filled out at CHAT events.
Once all of the surveys for the CHAT event have been collected, they will be analyzed to determine if the attending students found the event helpful and if they gained a better understanding of their financial situation.
14. Evaluate surveys filled out at financial counseling sessions at the end of the semester.
The surveys from the financial counseling sessions for the semester will be analyzed at the end of the semester to determine how the sessions have assisted students in understanding their financial situation. Changes will be made the sessions if necessary.
15. Invite SOFA representatives back and schedule next CHAT event.
The representatives from SOFA will be requested for the CHAT event that will be held in the next semester.
16. Hold follow-up training sessions for financial counselors at the beginning of each semester.
At the beginning of each semester, the financial counselors will gather to review what they learned in the initial training sessions and determine what changes or additions need to be made to the program, if any. Furthermore, any other staff member who may become a financial counselor will be trained by the existing counselors.
17. Repeat tasks 6-16 for each semester following the program’s launch.
We will evaluate our financial awareness program by giving surveys after the CHAT events and the individual financial counseling appointments that will report students’ satisfaction with each part of the program and their increase in understanding of their student loan debt. These surveys will include both qualitative and quantitative data and will be compared to the data we have collected for this proposal.
The surveys for the CHAT events will involve questions similar to those in the financial counseling surveys. The responses will be used to determine if students found the events to be helpful. The CHAT events will be considered successful if at least 400 students, split between the afternoon and evening sessions, attend each event in each semester. Additionally, 50 percent of the students who attend the CHAT events must report that they have a better understanding of their student loan debt and how to deal with it. If the attendance quota for the events is not met, the times at which the sessions will be held will be reevaluated and changed accordingly.
The survey for the financial counseling sessions will include questions pertaining to the students’ initial understanding of their financial situations, what they liked and disliked about the sessions, and their understanding after the sessions. The responses on these surveys will be used to determine if changes need to be made to the counseling sessions. Changes may be made to the content presented, the time of the sessions, and the staff. We will view the financial counseling part of our program as successful if, in each semester, at least 100 students utilize the financial counseling opportunity and at least 75 percent of these students report that they felt the session was helpful.
We hope that these numbers will be higher, but these goals seem appropriate for a new program such as this. If these goals are not met, new ways to reach the students will be sought. One possibility would be asking professors of certain courses, mainly introductory and financial courses, to give their students bonus points for attending the CHAT events or financial counseling sessions. Additionally, the changes suggested by the surveyed students will be examined, and those that appear numerous times or are determined to be strongly beneficial will be enacted. Finally, if the criteria for success are not met even half-way, the program will be deemed unfit and either overhauled or cancelled entirely.
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13. Paul Witte, email message to Taylor Breidenbach, March 25, 2015.
14. Stinson, Sonya.
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Blumenthal, Karen. “The Student-Debt Playbook.” WSJ. April 20, 2012. (accessed March 31, 2015). http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304818404577349792848426360
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. “Personal Finance Advisors.” Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition. January 8, 2014. (accessed March 14, 2015). http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/personal-financial-advisors.htm#tab-1
“Many college students nationally unaware of debt.” Washington Post. December 12, 2014. (accessed April 16, 2015).
“Marek Kolar.” Marek Kolar. July 23, 2014. (accessed March 31, 2015). http://trine.edu/meet-faculty/business/kolar-marek.aspx
Paul Witte, email message to Taylor Breidenbach, March 25, 2015.
“Quick Facts about Student Debt.” The Institute for College Access & Success. March 2014. (accessed March 31, 2015). http://ticas.webn.autoupdate.com/sites/default/files/legacy/files/pub/Debt_Facts_and_Sources.pdf
“Rasta Imposta Dollar 100 Bill Costume.” Amazon. (accessed April 12, 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Rasta-Imposta-Dollar-Costume-Green/dp/B0043GYW8S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1428879643&sr=8-1&keywords=dollar+costume
“Required Policies & Resources.” Trine University. March 25, 2015. (accessed March 31, 2015). http://trine.edu/about/policies-and-resources.aspx
“Senate Budget Committee Student Loan Debt Can Have Lasting Negative Consequences for Borrowers and the Economy.” Senate Budget Committee. June 3, 2014. (accessed March 31, 2015). http://www.budget.senate.gov/democratic/public/index.cfm/2014/6/student-loan-debt-can-have-lasting-negative-consequences-for-borrowers-and-the-economy
“State by State Data.” The Institute For College Access and Success. January 1, 2014. (accessed March 31, 2015). http://projectonstudentdebt.org/state_by_state-view2014.php?area=IN
Stinson, Sonya. “Debt Lessons.” University Business 16, no. 10: 63-68. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost. 2013. (accessed March 14, 2015).
“Trine University.” National Center for Education Statistics. (accessed March 31, 2015). http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?q=Trine&s=all&id=152567#fedloans
Trine University (2014). Trine University (1.0) [Mobile Application Software]. Retrieved from Apple App Store.