USA Funds Life Skills Launches Financial Literacy Focus

Editor’s Note: The following is a feature from the USA Funds® 2012 annual report. USA Funds Higher Education Success News is highlighting stories from the annual report to show how USA Funds is helping colleges and universities enhance student access to and success in higher education. View a video supplement to this article
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Pueblo Community College is reaching everyone from student success course participants to education loan counseling recipients with lessons about sound financial management. And helping the school to share those messages is USA Funds Life Skills®.
The Pueblo, Colo., school presents USA Funds Life Skills lessons to those taking the school’s student success course, required for students who must take more than one remedial class. Additionally, education loan borrowers taking part in federally mandated entrance counseling have the opportunity to take USA Funds Life Skills lessons — so some Pueblo Community College students see the material from USA Funds Life Skills multiple times.
“Our use of USA Funds Life Skills is targeting the students who need it most,” says Ron Swartwood, Pueblo Community College director of financial aid. “When I look at our data, most of the students who default have about $6,000 in education debt and were here for one to three semesters, and most were in remedial classes. The messages of USA Funds Life Skills are perfect for these students.”
USA Funds Life Skills is a Web-based financial literacy and student success program. The program equips schools to help students develop basic life management skills, so they graduate on time and with a minimum amount of debt.
Students taking USA Funds Life Skills as part of the PCC student success class are learning lessons hand-picked by their peers. Through the Student Advocates for Financial Empowerment — or SAFE — initiative, six mentors reviewed and selected the financial literacy and student success materials that now are a part of the course curriculum.
USA Funds provided a grant for the peer mentoring effort, through a $250,000 program to expand personal finance education delivered to students at 10 minority-serving institutions.
A public school, PCC is a designated Hispanic-Serving Institution offering more than 50 certificate and associate degree programs — at four campuses and online — to about 7,000 students.
“Our student advocates really are the ones carrying the banner for financial literacy at Pueblo Community College,” says Linda Tremblay, a grant writer and manager at the school. “They selected the USA Funds Life Skills materials based on what our population needs to know.”
Results of a survey conducted when PCC began incorporating USA Funds Life Skills into its student success course, in the spring, show that students often believe they know more about financial management than they actually do. To address this gap, when planning for the student success course, the student mentors and Swartwood focused on USA Funds Life Skills lessons on topics such as managing school and personal life, and budgeting.
“It’s important that students realize where their money is going,” says Marlena Landson, a May graduate of PCC who, while a mentor, helped select USA Funds Life Skills lessons for money management training. She drew on her own financial experiences in the more than 10 years between when she completed high school and when she began her postsecondary training at PCC to guide her decisions about the information that students need to be successful.
“I love the amount of information about money management that USA Funds Life Skills provides,” Landson says.
USA Funds Life Skills lessons dealing with financial aid, money management and student success are part of PCC’s entrance counseling offerings, which — along with the financial literacy training through the peer mentoring program — play a prominent role in the school’s overall default prevention plan. Swartwood developed the plan to address the school’s student loan default rate, which if not lowered could lead to federal financial aid sanctions.
School officials and students alike say that USA Funds Life Skills is helping PCC to make progress in keeping borrowers on the path to successful loan repayment.
“Beginner students are learning valuable lessons about money management from USA Funds Life Skills,” says Landson. “Now I’m hearing students say that they know they don’t need to take out more student loans, and they’re getting the financial information they need to be successful.”