By Rebecca John, Stephanie Weiss, and Wendi Wheeler ’06
It’s scary. Students don’t like it. Parents don’t like it. But for any family with a student in college, money matters, and talking openly about finances is a critical part of figuring out if and how an individual can afford college. It’s a path toward determining whether the costs of college are a good investment for students, and often, their families. It’s also a path toward understanding individual and family philosophies connected to saving, spending, and philanthropy.
Augsburg College is committed to talking with students and families about all these issues and sees these sometimes complex conversations as tools to build good decision-making as well as valuable investments in a family’s future.
Student Financial Services
Paying for college is a significant undertaking for families, regardless of their family household income. To help plan for this investment, families need to start talking about their finances long before they’re actually facing tuition payments.
“The place to start is by focusing on what the family values and how they make choices about what they buy and how they use the money they have,” said Carly Eichhorst, Augsburg College associate director of financial aid. “When we are working with families, we don’t start by talking about the mechanics of financial aid and student loans; we start by understanding their values.”
It’s also beneficial to include both the student and the parent or parents in the conversation, added Paul Terrio, director of student financial services.
“We see a difference between families who have had conversations about how they plan to pay for college and families where only some of the members—either the parents or the student—are involved in the financial discussion,” he said. “It’s a much more productive conversation if all of the family members are vested in the plan.”
In order to help support and foster these important family conversations, Augsburg has embedded financial aid counseling into the undergraduate admission process. So, when a first-year undergraduate student receives her or his acceptance letter from Augsburg, the letter clearly states, “The next step is to schedule your first-year meeting,” and invites them to make an appointment with the College’s student financial services staff. Augsburg also has linked financial planning with academic planning in the adult undergraduate program to ensure that adult undergraduate students and their families have resources to help navigate the system of financing college.
As a result of this intentional effort to invite families into the student finance discussion, as of June 1, nearly 45 percent of first-year students who had made their initial fall deposit had also scheduled an appointment with Augsburg’s financial services staff. With sessions continuing through the summer, a majority of first-year students and their families will have the opportunity to discuss their financial plans with the College before classes start in the fall.
“Our goal in working with families is to help them develop a comprehensive plan for the entire college degree, not just to figure out how they can pay for the first semester,” Terrio said. A comprehensive plan includes outlining how much the student or family will need to pay and how long they will need to make payments on any student loans taken out to cover college costs.
“Our role is not to prescribe financial solutions or provide a specific answer for how to pay for college,” Eichhorst said. “We are working to help families identify and understand their options.”
By gaining a shared understanding of their options, families can enhance their financial literacy and equip themselves to plan for—not just wish for—the means to pursue a college degree.
Auggies give. Every year.
This simple instruction forms the basis of the goal for Augsburg’s Student Philanthropy Week, an annual program designed to make students aware of how donor support benefits them and to teach students, from the beginning of their college careers through their graduation, about the importance of giving back to their alma mater.
Constituent Relations and the staff of The Augsburg Fund sponsor several programs for students throughout the academic year. To coordinate these programs, staff work closely with the Augsburg Stewards, a group of current undergraduate students who support philanthropic efforts at the College.
Each spring, Student Philanthropy Week includes a virtual “donor scavenger hunt” where students use daily clues, conduct library research, and visit donor-named locations on campus to guess the identity of one of the College’s major donors. The first student to accurately identify the donor wins a gift card.
The annual Feed the Pig campaign and the senior class giving campaign encourage students to begin donating to Augsburg. To participate in Feed the Pig, students receive a piggy bank in the fall and, throughout the school year, collect spare change to fill up their banks. Classes compete to raise the most money and to engage the greatest number of student participants. The money raised funds a scholarship for a student in the winning class.
These activities highlight the fact that, every year, Augsburg relies on thousands of alumni, parents, friends, and students to ensure that Auggies have access to an outstanding, affordable Augsburg education.
At Augsburg College, students and staff have turned inside out the federal mandate that all colleges and universities deliver financial literacy programs. Instead of delivering top-down programs of expert panelists or lectures, Augsburg involves students as key partners in creating and developing the school’s financial literacy program.
A key goal of the program is to help students open the door on conversations that typically are difficult and sometimes uncomfortable—conversations about personal and family finances, budgeting, and the cost of college.
“If you make public the stuff you usually hide, you can change individual behavior,” said Carly Eichhorst, associate director of financial aid. “But you have to start by being open with your own story.”
Having students shape the conversation is critical to helping them learn how to make good financial decisions today and in the future. That’s because research shows that knowledge retention soars to 75 percent when learning is practiced by doing, compared with 20 percent retention when we learn by listening.
“This is hard stuff to talk about,” Eichhorst said, “but when students see their friends sharing and grappling with tough ideas, it becomes easier and more acceptable to open up about their own stories.”
The College’s annual Money Matters program runs for a week during the spring and includes a range of events and activities to help students and their families talk openly about financial topics. In addition to counseling sessions and opportunities to connect with financial experts, 2012 Money Matters activities included:
- A student panel in which five Auggies from different socioeconomic, cultural, and faith backgrounds talked about how they make college work financially. Some student panelists also shared their stories with a Star Tribune reporter. Later in the spring, some of the students participated in a student loan and student finance roundtable with U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.
- My Money Secret, a participant-generated project in which students, staff, and faculty posted their money secrets in the skyways on campus. The secrets were hung on a line using clothespins—a display that was intentionally meant to invoke the feeling that participants were “airing their laundry,” Eichhorst said. Some students shared tips for saving, while other students disclosed habits of overspending.
Because investing in a college education is such a significant undertaking, Augsburg is committed to helping families build financial literacy from the first on campus encounter through a student’s full experience. By beginning the process of talking about money at the very start, students and their families not only learn important information about how to better manage their finances, but also have the chance to consider how they want to use their money—through saving, spending, and giving.