Choose Your Audience, Activities to Teach Financial Literacy

By Vicky Keller, USA Funds Consultant

With news of increasing student loan debt and with changes in cohort default rate calculations, schools are taking a closer look at how to educate students about wise money management.

Done right, financial literacy workshops can be an effective way to teach students about the importance of good debt management. But you have to reach the right people, and you have to get your point across to that audience.

Establish your audience

So let’s start with who you want to reach. If you’ve worked with any of us on the USA Funds® team of consultants, you know the importance we place on data. You can more effectively target your financial literacy and default prevention efforts if you know which types of your former students are most likely to default.

Read what my colleague Anne Fischer wrote in the spring about evaluating cohort default rate and institutional data to target your efforts.

Once you review your data to find groups of borrowers who are most at risk of defaulting, plan your financial literacy programming to specifically reach those groups.

Did your research show that students who withdrew after one year are most likely to default? Go beyond spending just a few minutes in a broader program — freshman orientation, for example — to cover all of your money management messages. Hit those first-year students with additional messages about budgeting while in school.

Is there a certain graduate program that has a particularly high percentage of defaulters? Organize financial literacy workshops for these students that address budgeting after graduation as well as in school.

Once you know who you’re targeting and what messages you want to share, schedule your workshops and lessons in a way that will help to ensure that students actually participate. Don’t shy away from involving others on campus who can offer incentives for attendance — such as providing extra class credit, making attendance part of the requirements for student organization membership, and establishing participation as a condition of scholarship eligibility.

Include activities

Then help make sure your students continue to attend your workshops by making the sessions engaging.

Here are 10 topics around which you can build interactive lessons. Some of your lessons can involve homework, something else I advocate as long as that homework is fun and effective. And remember to target messages and lessons to the groups of borrowers you’re trying to reach.

  • Determining “needs” versus “wants.”
  • Establishing a personal budget and including loan payments in that budget.
  • Balancing a checkbook. 
  • Grocery shopping. 
  • Comparing car insurance costs.
  • Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
  • Researching the cost of college.
  • Determining your potential salary.
  • Using credit cards wisely.
  • Establishing a family budget.

Need suggestions for activities that address these topics? USA Funds Life Skills®, USA Funds’ online financial literacy and student success program, includes material about those listed topics — including a number of interactive activities. Your USA Funds representative also can help you develop lessons that will keep your financial literacy workshop participants coming back for more.