November 3, 2008

Cornell Students Call for More Advice on Fiscal Management

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Across the country, some colleges are seeing the current financial crisis as the perfect opportunity to teach students a thing or two about their personal finances.
According to Inside Higher Ed, California State University-Northridge requires students receiving loans to enroll in a non-credit course in financial literacy. Those taking the course are also required to attend a one-on-one consultation session. This year, Cal State-Northridge is introducing a for-credit freshman seminar that teaches students how to manage both their time and money.
At Barnard College, students are treated to a copious selection of non-credit workshops that start during first-year orientation. The workshops cover a range of topics from budgeting and personal finances to investing and long-term planning.
These initiatives can come in a variety of flavors: online learning, for-credit seminars or mandatory consultations.
Cornell has no current plans to expand its existing initiatives and programs on fiscal management. Still, the University currently has a number of resources available to help students manage their finances. According to Thomas Keane, director of Financial Aid for Scholarships and Policy Analysis, several courses are available in multiple colleges that advise students on personal financial management, yet none of these courses are mandatory for students receiving loans.
“Informal opportunities exist through our counseling staff walk-in hours from noon to 3:30 p.m. every day. In addition, we hold walk-in hours at the Carol Tatkon Center in Balch Hall for the first six weeks of the fall semester and first four weeks of the spring semester,” Keane said.
“We make ourselves available for presentations on request to student groups, mainly working through the residence hall staff, or student services staff in the colleges,” he continued.
Although Keane did not identify any current initiatives, many students welcomed the idea of an expanded financial education program at the University.
Jessica Anderson ’10, a financial aid recipient, said that it seemed like Cornell was not making her transition toward financial independence any easier. Accord-ing to Anderson, getting information about financial aid is difficult and inaccessible.
“If you want to know something [about your financial aid package], you have to talk to three different people before someone can say something,” she said.
On top of creating a more “transparent” and user-friendly financial aid process, Anderson proposed a mandatory financial management competency program, similar to Cornell’s physical education requirement.
Cyré Guadalupe ’11 shared Anderson’s frustrations. At the end of freshman year, she was told about her summer savings expectation — a sum of money that the financial aid office expects students will raise. However, it was not until the beginning of her sophomore year when she arrived with her savings in hand that the office informed her of how the money would actually be used. Guadalupe was shocked to learn that her savings were never meant to be paid to the office directly, but that it was merely a recommended figure that students are expected to contribute to their tuition.
“I was just told, ‘You have to have summer savings.’ If they had explained how summer savings actually worked, I wouldn’t have to be stressed out about getting the money,” Guadalupe said.
She welcomed the idea of mandatory workshops and identified the Freshman Writing Seminars as a helpful model.
Michelle Benner ’10 argued that the University had a particularly high onus to teach its students about financial management.
“Even if it’s not their responsibility, if they care about their students, [the University] should help us out,” Benner said.
She added that she felt as if she had to fend for herself in order to balance her own budget. Benner supported mandatory financial education, emphasizing that courses should have a more practical focus that “applies to life.”
Claire Louge ’08 took one of the University’s financial management courses in the School of Hotel Administration. Although she said the course was extremely helpful, she complained, “It wasn’t very well advertised.” Louge suggested that the University could implement mandatory financial education “much like the swim test.” That way, she said, all students would graduate knowing not only how to swim, but also how to manage their money.
Louge admitted that it does not seem like a university’s place to teach its students how to manage personal finances, but she said, “If not Cornell, then who?”