Peer-to-peer financial education program to begin in fall

Managing finances is one of the many obstacles students are faced with while in college.

But the Office of Financial Aid and the Office of Student Success are now working to create a program that will provide peer-to-peer financial education to students, by students.

Billie Jo Hamilton, director for the Office of Financial Aid at USF, said after suggestions from the Provost and President to implement initiatives that encourage student financial literacy, her office and the Office of Student Success plan to launch the program by the fall semester.

While a title for the program has not yet been finalized, Hamilton said the planned space for the program is on the second floor of the Student Services building.

“We wanted to expand the programs we have,” Hamilton said. “And we wanted to offer a face-to-face kind of experience for students to indicate that they need some help with financial information and planning and budgeting and things like that.”

Dameion Lovett, assistant director of financial aid, said the program’s first objective is to reach out to students, offering workshops and hands-on experience with their finances such as creating a budget that is tailored to their needs.

Students, who will be trained by financial aid staff members, will also be hired to work as peer educators to provide information and consultation to other students.

“We recognize that the peer-to-peer level is the best way to reach students,” Lovett said. “They’re going to listen to each other … much more readily than they’re going to listen to the administrators.”

The second objective of the program is to provide services to students on a client basis, Lovett said. Students would be able to visit the program’s office and receive one-on-one consultation about their individual finances, and a peer educator in the office would use the information presented to assist students with making financial decisions most suitable to their situation.

“We’re not going to be giving one answer as the solution to whatever that student’s problem or issue is,” Lovett said. “What we want to do is to give the student the information so they know what their options are, and they can make the best decision that suits their particular situation.”

Paul Dosal, vice provost for student success, said though USF currently is below the national average for the amount of debt a student graduating from the university leaves with, the university wants to monitor the statistics to make sure the numbers don’t increase.

“Helping our students to manage their debt is one of the main objectives of our student success movement,” Dosal said. “So we kept tabs on the debt levels of our graduates, knowing that with the rising costs, it is increasingly difficult to manage debt.”

Hamilton said Lovett visited Texas Tech University to learn about its financial education program, “Red to Black,” which provides free and confidential financial coaching to students according to its website.

“Their peer-to-peer model seemed to be a model best practicing,” Dosal said. “Peer tutoring models seem to work in other situations. It was logical to assume that peer tutoring could work well in financial education as well.”

Lovett said plans for the program at USF include creating a financial literacy presentation to present the program to entering freshman students at orientation sessions during the summer. A calling campaign has also been started to prospective out-of-state students to discuss with students how they plan to finance their education while at USF.

Currently, first-year students are required to participate in an online financial literacy course as part of the “Life Skills for Student Success” module that is required to be completed on Blackboard.

Daniel Bond, a sophomore majoring in finance, said it would be interesting helping other students with their financial situations as a peer educator, and that he would utilize the program’s services he if was unfamiliar with a topic regarding his finances.

“I think it would be a good program as long as the workers are well-educated, and they know exactly what they’re doing so they don’t give the wrong information,” Bond said.

Hamilton said the program will help students graduate with less debt.

“We want to make sure that students, before they commit to USF, have a good understanding of the financial implications of that decision, and that they will have adequate funding,” Hamilton said. “Not just the first year, but we’re going to encourage them to take a four-year view of that decision.”