JMU Called Role Model For Student Financial Literacy

James Madison University's collaborative approach to teaching financial literacy to students should be a model for other universities, an official with the National Student Loan Program said this week.

Todd Woodlee, vice president of business development for the NSLP, made the remark May 20 while presenting the organization's annual Financial Literacy Leadership Award. The award recognizes higher education institutions that provide outstanding financial literacy education to their students.

The NSLP award committee sought financial literacy programs that are comprehensive and innovative, and that reach students.

JMU's Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, College of Business, Center for Economic Education, and Outreach and Engagement Office all work to increase the financial literacy of students, faculty, staff and community members. 

JMU students face numerous financial decisions when they begin their college careers. Throughout their time at JMU they can take advantage of many opportunities to increase their personal financial management skills.

Short term, JMU wants to help students avoid making financial mistakes at a young age that can take them years to correct. Longer term, the university wants to teach students how to thrive in life. "We spend so much time teaching students how to have a career—we should also teach them how to manage their financial lives so they can be successful in their careers," said Brad Barnett, senior associate director of financial aid.

Cathy Snyder teaches GBUS160: Business Decision Making in a Modern Society.  She finds many freshman students are unprepared to make personal financial management decisions now that they are adults. 

After surveying her students, Snyder found that most had no role in helping to finance their higher education. "I think by virtue of not being exposed to money management pressures or being financially invested in their own education, conversations about financial responsibility have just seldom, if ever, been initiated," said Snyder. 

Snyder and her colleague, Dr. Ron Cereola, have been teaching the introductory critical thinking course to approximately 1,500 students for 12 years.  Based on student feedback, they have reworked the course to incorporate real life decision-making scenarios that students will face as adults.  Students create a personal budget, understand and analyze the stock market, research consumer car loans and look at the effect of charitable giving on tax returns.

The financial aid and scholarships office offers workshops throughout the year on creating a budget, balancing a checkbook, managing credit card debt and other life skills.  An estimated 700 students attend the financial literacy workshops offered each year.

While receiving the NSLP award is an honor, Barnett said it also is a call to action. "The NSLP award sends a message to the university as a whole that we're at a great starting point, but with more effort we can have an even bigger impact," he said.

Barnett hopes to reach even more students next year by offering a class focused on financial literacy.


Published: May 21, 2010