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I am very confident in managing my money and do not need help.
That is one answer students can pick in response to a self-assessment question about their money management skills as part of new financial literacy training required — for the first time — for all first-year students across Iowa's public universities in the new academic year.
But claiming to know it all won't get you out of the Board of Regents' inaugural financial literacy program, which is being rolled out differently across the campuses but seeks to achieve the same mission — to impart on students lifelong financial skills; get them through college with minimal debt; and help them achieve the greatest bang for their buck.
'You will be happy to know that Iowa is making history by being the first one in the country to put this program in place for all three public universities in the state,' Tahira Hira, an Iowa State University finance and economics professor who's led the financial literacy initiative, told regents in June. 'I know there are many other institutions who are watching our program.'
Students joining the University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa ranks in August must complete the 'cash course' in the fall semester — UI students have four weeks to finish and UNI students have to get it done before the end of the term. Iowa State is making its students finish the course within four weeks in the spring semester, said Jennifer Schroeder, program coordinator for the ISU Student Loan Education Office.
'We felt that there's just a lot happening in terms of transitioning from high school to college — getting acclimated to the university — that to try and throw on something that we believe is a very important and somewhat overwhelming or confusing topic on top of all that other stuff would just maybe lose the point,' Schroeder said. 'So we made the decision to have it go into effect in the spring semester.'
Students, regardless of campus, automatically will be enrolled in the program. UI students, for example, must take it as part of their 'Success at Iowa' orientation education — which is required for all new undergraduate students and includes information on alcohol-harm reduction, sexual assault dangers and bystander intervention.
UI students who don't finish the course receive an 'incomplete' on their transcript.
The financial literacy curriculum, provided by the National Endowment for Financial Education's CashCourse at no cost, was tested on the Iowa State campus last spring. The university, at that time, didn't have the ability to automatically enroll students, but it attracted about 400 volunteers out of 8,000 possible participants.
Those student guinea pigs provided feedback on what content was helpful and what was not, and reported back on knowledge and skills they gained.
Most liked portions of the training that covered budgeting and money management or financial aid and student loans. Fewer liked a module on car buying and banking. The percentage of participating students who reported feeling confident in their money management skills soared from 20.7 percent before the training to nearly 60 percent after.
'I believe that everyone should have to take a class that includes this information,' one of the test students said, according to Hira's report to regents.
All three universities will offer four concepts as part of the financial literacy training. They include:
1 Budgeting and money management
2 Spending and financial decision making
3 Credit and debt
4 Financial aid and student loans.
Iowa State is offering an option on banking and cars.
The training has been a long time coming, as regent leadership for years has urged the universities to create a mandatory, in-class course on financial literacy. Although this new training is online and not in a physical classroom, it provides information about additional support services — including peer mentors and campus resources.
Those in-person services have been available for interested students for years. But, regent leadership has argued, the students seeking counsel typically are not the ones who need it.
And financial literacy among undergraduates is becoming increasingly important as tuition rates continue to climb and as lawmakers slash support for higher education.
Proposed 2022 tuition rates for in-state students:
University of Iowa: $10,537
Iowa State University: $10,457
University of Northern Iowa: $8,237
Source: Five-year tuition proposals presented to the Iowa Board of Regents
'As they transition into adulthood and living on their own, it is a good time, and it's going to be important as costs rise, maybe funding continues to decrease, and they're going to have to come up with a plan or other avenues to make ends meet,' ISU's Schroeder said. 'So knowing what all that means and how to figure out what your options are and how to make those decisions — that's very important information for our students to have.'
Even with increases in tuition, Iowa's public universities have been driving down student debt through a variety of efforts — including helping students graduate on time or even early. But administrators continue to urge more willingness to 'live like a student.'
'Just to get students to take some ownership of their finances and maybe advocate for themselves on a financial platform,' Schroeder said. 'What we find a lot of times is that — especially with our freshman students — they're really disengaged from the whole process. Mom and dad are handling it all for them.'
This training, she said, among other things, aims to put 'the leadership and the ownership of managing your finances in the hands of the students.'
'It's letting them know that it's yours to do,' she said. 'This is really your money, your implication, your consequences for the decisions you make.'