Monroe College is an independent proprietary college. The more than 7,000 students at its two New York campuses enroll in a variety of programs leading to associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The geographic areas served by Monroe College have some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the country. Despite these challenges, Monroe College has the highest bachelor’s degree graduation rate in the U.S. for campuses with enrollments of 1,000 or more with at least 60 percent Pell Grant recipients and 70 percent minority students. Monroe also ranks first in New York state in awarding undergraduate degrees to black and Hispanic students.
The college developed its Debt Reduction, Education, Assessment & Management project as a comprehensive strategic initiative to produce graduates who demonstrate smart personal finance behaviors. Core elements of this initiative include ways to minimize student borrowing while maximizing earning potential. Building on its history of providing lifelong career services for its graduates, through this initiative, the College’s Office of Loan Management houses a dedicated group providing lifetime professional debt management and default prevention advisement to students and their families.
A comprehensive, multi-dimensional approach, the DREAM project addresses the following issues:
- Debt reduction, by assisting students with budget management, increasing and redistributing institutional aid, intervening early with loan counseling and education, and increasing access to part-time jobs and paid internship placements.
- Debt education, achieved by beginning a student’s financial literacy education prior to enrollment during outreach sessions and the financial aid and admissions application processes, revising administrative requirements and forms for financial literacy content, assigning students to a trained personal financial adviser, developing a peer financial advising program, inserting milestones throughout the student’s degree program with measurable results, and creating effective exit strategies for both degree completers and non-completers.
- Debt assessment, through the creation of an annual dashboard with clear, strategic indicators, as well as creation of a regular cycle of assessment of knowledge, attitudes and behaviors around financial literacy.
- Debt management, through enhanced staffing of the college’s Office of Loan Management and Office of Career Advancement.
Monroe College’s financial literacy program reaches more than 1,000 currently enrolled students using multiple channels. It includes classroom sessions, an interactive online curriculum, peer counselors and student events that promote and encourage participation. Classroom sessions include a five-week, non-credit seminar targeting freshman students. The seminar offers basic budgeting and money management concepts and exercises. Through pre- and post-test assessments, the college measures student performance. Its interactive online program serves current students and alumni with educational videos, job search tools and a “town hall” forum to share information. Student events include evening sessions in residence halls, during which peer counselors demonstrate and enroll students in the online program.
The DREAM initiative has promoted ongoing, sustained communication across all academic and administrative units of the college around financial literacy and its implications for student access, retention, achievement and success. This work also has led to the creation of a Financial Literacy Library, where research, policy reports, and other news about financial literacy and higher education can be easily shared across the institution. In addition, Monroe College continues to post student loan cohort default rates that are below the national average.