Efforts to bolster undergraduate students' financial literacy will take a new tack this academic year. All freshman and transfer students automatically will be registered spring semester in the online, not-for-credit Cyclone CashCourse. The course includes learning materials and quizzes for these four modules:
- Prepare financially to meet your costs
- Manage your spending
- Reduce your dependence on credit and debt
- Financial aid options to minimize student loan debt
Each student is expected to complete all four modules within four weeks, in whichever order he or she chooses.
Following an 18-month review and search for a financial education piece that all three regent universities could use and a CashCourse pilot last winter involving 400 Iowa State students, the state Board of Regents approved the CashCourse proposal at its June meeting. CashCourse is a free, existing program developed by the nonprofit National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE). Schools are able to select from an array of learning modules to create a CashCourse for their students.
Professor emerita of human development and family studies Tahira Hira, who led the regents study group, said she was opposed to developing a course when proven products already exist. NEFE's products are used around the world, she said, and its customization feature was a draw.
She called Cyclone CashCourse "basic training" for students. The goal, she said, is to follow that up with additional information when students want to learn more. Those options, she said, include ISU for-credit courses, online resources and campus offices that can be resources for them during their university years.
"For the rest of their lives, the more they know, the better off they'll be," Hira said.
Cyclone CashCourse will be administered by the Student Loan Education Office, led by Jennifer Schroeder. The course will be among those listed when students log in to their learning management system site next spring.
Schroeder is no stranger to NEFE since Iowa State has had an account with it for several years. Cyclone CashCourse would involve the most Iowa State students to date.
While the universities of Iowa and Northern Iowa will offer their versions of CashCourse this fall, Schroeder said Iowa State opted to wait until spring semester, for several reasons:
- Incoming freshmen often are overwhelmed with transition-to-college issues during fall semester.
- Many first-year students live in the residence halls and their full university bills are paid by their parents or financial aid.
- Once students start looking ahead to their sophomore year and possibly transitioning to off-campus housing, budget issues become more pertinent.
Schroeder said she will hire peer mentors, as many as 20, to help run the program, motivate students to complete the modules and be a "hands-on, in-person connection" to answer questions. Peer mentors would be assigned to locations around campus during the four-week course period, she said.
Schroeder noted that financial literacy strategies on university campuses have improved over the last 10 years, but figuring out how to engage students when "they don't know what they don't know" remains a challenge. There is no penalty for students who don't complete Cyclone CashCourse next spring.