The short-term goals of this project funded by the Truist Foundation are to address students’ financial distress and facilitate their ability to complete their graduate school education as planned, with minimal financial distress and debt. This project to build student financial well-being and move them beyond crisis to greater engagement and economic stability is multi-pronged:
- Develop and implement a free, anonymous, online financial anxiety screening platform to be housed on our Financial Social Work Initiative (FSWI) website and linked to other School and University sites, for students to complete and receive immediate feedback, guidance, and “warm hand-off” referrals for further support and services;
- Conduct student financial well-being fairs, professionally record them, and integrate them into a new just-in-time learning system where students can view speakers’ presentations any time they are ready to learn or get help;
- Allocate funds for a semester to consult with OSA faculty on how to best support First-Generation students regarding their financial well-being and to hold weekly hour-long financial support workshops and individual meetings for students to enhance their financial wellness knowledge; and
- Launch a new financial well-being “train the trainer” program to deliver student loan coaching and provide comprehensive training for an initial cohort of coaches, with a focus on including “First Gen” students (funded separately).
Regarding metrics, we will use a validated financial anxiety survey, launched on our FSWI website, to help students better understand their financial stressors and how they can work with the School and community partners to solve them. We have developed a survey to be used to gauge satisfaction with services. The milestones in all these components reflect financial capability-building so that students can be proactive and up-front about addressing their financial distress and planning better solutions. This coordinated effort will move students towards greater stability in engaging and feasible ways.
Our long-term goals include embedding and integrating student financial well-being more fully into academic and professional life for students, thus making it less threatening and more do-able. We envision a proactive financial integration model that begins when students enter the program, such that each student will be provided with the cost of the program along with a budget template for use during their academic careers to ensure that they are on task with their own financial goals. We have demonstrated success in helping to tackle students’ financial crisis needs, but we desire to move along a continuum with our students towards greater financial well-being. We will also improve financial mobility of our students through financial education, coaching, and individualized
support that will increase student academic success and set a trajectory for financial growth as professional social work graduates. Utilizing the “train the trainer” approach facilitates another long-term goal of matching students to alumni mentors as students launch their careers. (Many of our FSW Certificate Program graduates are also School alum, so the “train the trainer” aspect here serves a dual purpose.) Additionally, educating our students about their financial well-being will help them as they begin work with clients and communities on their financial needs and struggles and will help sensitize them to the role that financial well-being plays in people’s lives, especially when they are vulnerable. We also envision that students will be better aligned to pay back student loans and other incurred debt. Metrics used will include numbers of students served, numbers of “train the trainer” connections, and numbers of alumni matched with students. We will also use surveys and focus groups to gather information.
Long-term aspirations are to establish a permanent Office of Student Financial Well-Being designed to address student financial concerns and oversee the program.