For the past few years, through a partnership with Regions Bank, student athletes at Auburn have had the ability to participate in a financial wellness program. Aimed at helping student athletes make informed financial decisions after graduation, the program’s success paved the way for a university-wide program.
“So the program we’re rolling out now started with athletes, and it was working really well,” Caroline Willoughby, Auburn SGA Treasurer, said. “Athletes really seemed to enjoy it. So we asked to make this on a larger scale for the whole student body.”
At the end of last year, Willoughby said she was able to get a foot in the door with Regions. She began talking about scaling up the then current financial wellness program with athletes to include students, faculty and alumni.
While Willoughby was the treasurer in office when the program kicked off, she said the program was the culmination of many years of work of past treasures. When running for office, one of the goals of her platform was to help students learn how to save money, and she hopes this program will allow them to do so.
“I remember my freshman year being like, ‘Oh yeah, my parents gave me an allowance,’ but now this allowance is not just buying food, now it’s buying toilet paper, it’s buying toothpaste and it’s buying my gas,” Willoughby said. “I wanted to teach students about managing that money, and I think this is a program that really does that.”
The topics covered by the financial wellness program include showing students how to budget, accumulate savings and plan for a fiscal secure future. This past week, Auburn hosted financial literacy coach Eric Smith, who spoke to both Auburn employees and students. According to Micheal McCay, director of Auburn University Career Services, the first seminar was a success.
“We had over 120 staff and faculty members attend their session, and I think we ended up with close to 50 students [in their session],” McCay said. “The main thing we do with this is we record [the seminars] and add them to our website, so if a student couldn’t come to one, then they could hop on the website and watch it later.”
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While both seminars were focused on financial wellness, Smith tailored the seminar to fit the groups attending, McCay said. For faculty and staff, the seminar was centered on retirement planning and long-term saving, while the student seminar was focused more on weekly spendings and short-term savings.
“He did a really nice job of talking about, ‘Hey, you’re working part-time, you’re making $11 an hour; here are some strategies you can go about budgeting and how you can save in advance,’” McCay said. “He was speaking to the students, which of course was a different conversation than the one we had with our staff.”
According to McCay, some resources online will be the same for all students, but there will be some programs tailored to specific groups of students, like graduate students or students in the Veterinary College of Medicine.
In order to allow Regions the opportunity to maximize the effectiveness of their financial wellness program, Willoughby said it was important for her and her team to get feedback from students on which areas of financial literacy they were the most concerned about, as well as how COVID-19 affected their financial plans.
Through a concerted effort between Willoughby and her team, McCay and his team and the help of Julie Huff, Assistant Vice President for Strategic Initiatives for the Provost’s office, incoming freshman were surveyed about their financial literacy at Camp War Eagle, and a ten question poll was sent to juniors and seniors, asking questions about their future plans.
According to McCay, the timing of COVID-19 and the concerns and uncertainty around that caused the ball to get moving.
“I was brought into the conversations back in August, and we always had October, last week, kind of on our radar of getting everything ready to go for that initial launch,” McCay said. “And then for springtime, we’ve already had some folks reach out to us from the colleges and programs that want to start having some conversations.”
For Willoughby, the first step in expanding the program is to get the attention of the student body.
“I would really love for it to be something that every student knows about,” Willoughby said. “I think that’s my first goal; for every student to realize that these resources are available for us to use, on a daily basis.”
Following that, Willoughby hopes to see the financial wellness program become integrated into both the classroom as well as the culture of Auburn.
“Every year, SGA has a speaker on financial wellness, and every year BSU does, so on and so forth,” Willoughby said. “I think that that would be really wonderful; to integrate [financial wellness] fully into our culture as a campus.”
The online resources and past seminars can be accessed by going to Auburn’s website and searching “Financial Wellness.”
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