August 13, 2008
Do your students understand personal finance? Stress about debt can factor into enrollment decisions. Programs that improve students’ financial literacy can help them make good choices.
At Texas Tech University, faculty members realized that many of their students were worried about debt. That observation led to the creation of the Red to Black Program.
The peer-to-peer program provides advice to students who need it and experience for student volunteers, who are enrolled in academic programs in personal financial planning.
Dottie Durband, the program director and a faculty member, explained how the program works and how other institutions can start similar programs. She spoke at a webinar hosted by the National Student Loan Program, a nonprofit organization.
Your school colors might not lend themselves to a catchy name like Red to Black, but you can still use Durband’s tips to get a program started.
Red to Black volunteers are juniors, seniors or graduate students in the personal financial planning program. They must have completed certain classes to apply. The application process each spring works like a job application and includes an interview conducted by current volunteers.
The volunteers run workshops on topics of interest such as premarital finances and buying a car.
They also meet individually with clients. Initially, Red to Black served only Texas Tech students, but the program later began accepting staff and employees and members of the local community as clients. Only students in the master’s and doctoral programs work with community-based clients.
Student volunteers aren’t paid, but they receive polo shirts with the program name, name tags and business cards. An alumnus who volunteered for Red to Black as a student donated a scholarship for one current volunteer student.
Students volunteer because they are interested in career exploration or in developing specific skills such as the public speaking needed to run workshops, Durband said. Employers have commented that former volunteers they hire have enhanced skills communicating with clients and more confidence than other new employees, she said.
The volunteer hours also count when students apply for certifications in the financial planning field, she said. And some students use their participation as part of a for-credit service-learning practicum.
Red to Black was originally housed in student affairs. Now it is housed in the personal financial planning academic program. Base a decision about where to house a program like this on the culture of your campus, Durband said.
One challenge of the program is that, since students graduate, the turnover in volunteers is high. So training and evaluation of volunteers and programs is ongoing.
At one time, the volunteers managed Red and Black’s Web site. Because their enthusiasm would wane as their coursework heated up, Durband discovered that having a campus staff member do this with volunteer input worked better.
To manage the workload involved in a peer-to-peer literacy program, Durband recommended working with other departments on campus that have a stake in student financial literacy. Ask yourself, "Who knows you on campus? Who loves you? Who can help you?" she said.
Offices she has worked with on programming and other initiatives include financial aid, student business services, the student wellness center, residence life, student legal services, and the parent office. The development office can also help you, she said. Two graduates who volunteered in the program have donated money to it, she said.
Red to Black presents information at freshman orientation and has a booth there so that new students can learn that the program is available.
Learn more about Red to Black at www.orgs.ttu.edu/r2b. E-mail Dottie Durband at firstname.lastname@example.org.