Emerson College will soon be the first major college or university in New England to employ accredited financial counselors for students, who face a range of money issues both during and after their schooling.
“Many students don’t think about certain aspects of their finances until it affects their lives,” said Ruthanne Madsen, associate vice president of Enrollment and Student Financial Services. “The key is to have them thinking about their financial education early on.”
The Money Matters program, provided by the Office of Student Financial Services, already offers one-on-one sessions for students and alumni. But soon, employees will become financial counselors accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling, Planning and Education, an international, nonprofit professional membership organization dedicated to improving personal finance education and certifications.
“It’s another way to provide reassurance for the students and families we’re meeting with,” Madsen said. “You learn how to talk to people, make them feel comfortable.”
Kellie Fuller, the associate director at Emerson’s Student Service Center, said the increase of counseling sessions marks a significant change in the way the center handles student money issues.
“The Center was designed 10 years ago when we had to get every single form signed on paper, and now everything is done online,” Fuller said. “We’re doing fewer and fewer transactions, but the questions [from students] are more in depth. So our staff is being trained to handle everything much more holistically.”
Fuller said if a student wants to add money to her campus debit card, for example, Student Service Center employees will now discuss her entire billing statement before completing the transaction.
“We make sure we’re getting the whole picture,” she said.
Madsen wants to continue to build the number of students participating in the Money Matters program, which includes the financial counseling sessions. In the fall 2012 semester, 196 students signed up for the program, up from 38 the previous semester.
“Incoming students might not care about [debt] repayment,” Madsen said, “but I can tell you for sure that graduating students do.”
“ If you’re not successful financially, you’re not healthy mentally or probably overall because you’ve got stress and anxiety.”
The program includes enrolling students and recent graduates in an interactive, online component called SALT, which is geared toward educating them on common financial issues for their age group.
Those issues include basic money management, student loan and credit card repayment, interest accumulation, and bankruptcy. Madsen says many people don’t realize federal loans are more flexible than private loans if they get into financial difficulties after graduation.
“Some [people] don’t worry about saddling debt because they think something is going to work out—that a whirlwind of money will fall into their lap,” Madsen said. “But you really need to forecast into the future and ask, ‘Am I setting myself up for success in all areas of my life?’ If you’re not successful financially, you’re not healthy mentally or probably overall because you’ve got stress and anxiety.”
Madsen said Emerson acknowledges the cost of tuition can be out of reach for many potential students, including some who are passionate about enrolling in the College’s well-respected communication and arts programs, but is willing to help.
“It’s about us delivering options and counseling them about what’s best,” she said. “If people are going to be successful, they’re going to be successful anywhere.”
Madsen became a certified counselor through AFCPE in 2008 and two of her employees expect to complete certification courses by the end of the spring 2013 semester. Three other employees are scheduled to follow.