PHILADELPHIA – Managing a budget, balancing a checking account and paying bills on time are among the financial responsibilities adults must juggle. They are also tasks many young people don’t take on until they go to college and, if the students are ill prepared, they can get them into hot water.
To help University of Pennsylvania students, both grads and undergrads, navigate these waters, the Student Registration and Financial Services office has added CashCourse, an online financial-literacy program created by the non-profit National Endowment of Financial Education, to the SRFS Web site.
“We felt we needed to educate all our students about their finances,” Marlene Bruno, SRFS director of communications. “Being away from home, students need to manage their money themselves, often for the first time. Also, there’s been a growing concern since the recession that Americans in general are not as financially literate as they should be.”
Bruno said SRFS convened a five-member team to review the many financial literacy sites that are available, and CashCourse rose to the top of the list because of its wide range of topics, privacy, cost and focus. Others were very pricy, while CashCourse is free.
Categories of interest include financial basics, paying for college, college life, the world of work and economic survival tips, and students can access much of the information without logging on.
“The for-profit companies often had something to sell students,” Bruno said. “We didn’t want to go that route. We didn’t like not knowing what was happening to our students’ information when they had to log on. With CashCourse, you log on only if you want to save your work on creating a budget.”
Val Sandillo, senior director of the 16-person Student Financial Services Counseling center, likes CashCourse because it begins at the college level.
“Some products were geared to an elementary or high school level. Although we now have this tool and we want students to use it, the staff realizes that the message hasn’t gotten to everyone,” Sandillo said, “so we are layering it with other options.
For instance, SRFS is considering offering learning modules on Penn-specific topics, such as study abroad, she said.
Also, Sandillo recommends what she calls “wellness visits” with SRSF counselors such as those her staff held in August with students attending a pre-freshman program.
As part of his wellness visit, freshman Tony Morales from Pembrook Pines, Fla., said he had an "absolutely, and unexpectedly, great visit with the Student Financial Services office this past summer.
“My counselor, Jason Cronk, went above and beyond my expectations,” Morales said. “He was genuinely caring and answered my questions very clearly on financial aid, adjusted my package as was necessary, offer me loan money in the event I felt it needed and gave me personalized suggestions, particularly about the financial aspects of study abroad."
“I think it was a positive experience for my staff and the students,” Sandillo said. “The students came in with a different perspective; they were not in trouble yet.”