Iowa State seeing student returns from investment in financial literacy offerings

AMES, Iowa - It's been two years since Iowa State University leaders invested in greater financial literacy resources for students. And the numbers now suggest that the university is seeing a return on investment in terms of greater student access.

Student enrollment for the one-credit, online "Personal Finance in Early Adulthood" course went from 155 two years ago to 503 through the 2011 fiscal year. Enrollment in the related three-credit course also climbed from 187 in 2009 to 449 at the close of the fiscal year.

Iowa State continues to be one of the few institutions nationally that offers a full-service financial counseling clinic, and students are taking advantage of it too. The number of students who have sought counseling assistance at the clinic has grown from 296 in 2007 to 537 in the past fiscal year. The number of students served by clinic workshops has also grown from 1,525 two years ago to 2,859 in the 2011 fiscal year.

"There's no question we're reaching more students," said Doug Borkowski, director of ISU's Financial Counseling Clinic, who teaches personal finance courses. "And that follows proposals made by the Board of Regents on what could be done to decrease student loan debt."

Two years ago, Iowa State's Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) faculty collaborated with ISU's Government of the Student Body (GSB) to develop the one-credit, online course.

"Courses can only be offered through an academic unit, and we're [the Financial Counseling Clinic] in a position where we've got the professional expertise as well as an academic unit [HDFS] to support the course," said Jeanna Nation, a financial counselor and lecturer in the ISU Financial Counseling Clinic who was lead creator of the course.

GSB funded the development of the course, which provides students with a solid understanding of basic personal financial issues -- including budgeting, credit, credit cards, student loans, insurance, campus resources and more.

"The honest truth is that this [course] still absolutely would not have happened if GSB had not championed the cause," Borkowski said. "Both their [GSB's] pushing and financial support really made this happen."

Dakota Hoben (left), president of Iowa State's Government of the Student Body, finds it exciting that students are taking advantage of financial resources on campus.

"Ever since topping the student debt list a few years ago, we have made financial literacy and education a priority," Hoben said. "We have worked to publicize the issue among students and get conversations started among students. I believe the alleviating of this problem among ISU students has been a direct result of increased participation by students in the financial resources that the clinic provides, as well as the awareness campaigns that GSB has run. By no means is this problem solved, but we are starting to head in the right direction by addressing the debt issues among ISU students."

Borkowski is now working with GSB leaders to establish a peer-to-peer student financial counseling group, which would provide ISU students even greater access to financial counseling assistance across campus, possibly as early as next semester.

There are also future plans to add another financial literacy course for students who are about to graduate and enter the workforce that will cover family finance topics.