Reading, Writing and (Credit) Reports: University of Virginia Program Teaches Students Financial Literacy

Jan. 27, 2007 — In the process of applying to college, students focus on grade point average, standardized test scores, and class rank. But once they get to college, Yvonne Hubbard, director of Student Financial Services at the University of Virginia, wants them to begin focusing on another number — their credit score.

"Understanding your credit score can be a critical factor in your life," Hubbard said. "Debt and money management are problematic for young people when they're just getting out of colleges. Students need to recognize early in their college careers that their credit score needs to be part of their decision-making process. We want to help students not just know what that score is but also how to understand and monitor it."

As part of AccessUVA, the University's financial aid program, U.Va. partnered with the National Student Loan Program, Bank of America and Experian, a national credit reporting agency, to conduct a series of pilot workshops for a select group of first-year students last fall.

"There are various approaches to teaching students about how to handle their finances. Many are Web-based or rely on distributed literature," said Hubbard. "We believe that the best way to get this message across is through in-person classes and one-on-one sessions."

Students attended a series of workshops on budgeting, using credit cards wisely and managing their credit history presented by financial experts from the NSLP. They also received a free credit report and credit score through U.Va.'s partnership with Experian. Students learned how to interpret their credit information and could take advantage of a free, personal consultation offered by NSLP’s financial counselors. Additionally, students took pre- and post-tests to measure their financial knowledge — tests which enabled AccessUVA to gauge the program’s success.

“I learned how to manage my money and how to create a budget.  The habits I had before have changed in terms of how I save and monitor my money,” said Eugene Resnick, a first-year U.Va. student from Brooklyn, N.Y., who attended one of the workshops presented by NSLP. “I would definitely recommend this program to any U.Va. student in need of money managing tips.”

The challenge, says Hubbard, is finding a way to make such a workshop fit into the busy lives of more students.

"We're never going to be able to get 13,000 undergraduates into a room to have this discussion," said Hubbard. "But we will need to be very clever to find ways to get our students to participate in this training. If we can get a large percentage of our students to get their credit scores on an annual basis and begin to think about them, it will have made a significant difference."

The AccessUVA financial literacy program is a comprehensive, structured approach to teaching students how to manage their finances. "U.Va. built an effective partnership to garner resources that they needed, and set up a model program that can demonstrate how beneficial financial literacy instruction is for college students,” said Sharon Cabeen, NSLP’s vice president of financial literacy and a 20-year veteran in financial counseling. “We’re extremely pleased to be a partner in their success.”