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Online financial literacy program to assist students

For most students, post-college life symbolizes the end of an all-Ramen diet, thankless part-time jobs and sleeping in a winter coat. But in the midst of what is being referred to as the “student loan crisis,” students in Iowa may have to sustain their thrifty habits.

According to the Project on Student Debt, in 2009 (the last year for which data was available) Iowa’s college students graduated owing an average of $28,883, the second highest in the nation after Washington D.C. Drake 2009 graduates left with an average debt of $34,919.

The Iowa College Student Aid Commission has been working to develop ways to help students tackle that debt, and in early October, Drake announced a new partnership with the organization. The university will become the first in the state to adopt a new program designed to help students understand and overcome their college debt.

Buttonwood is an online personal finance curriculum developed by EverFi, a company that creates educational technology platforms. Students can access the program at www.IHaveAPlanIowa.gov, where users create an account and are then led through seven modules addressing 600 financial literacy concepts. They must pass exams along the way in order to move into the next level and can also access other online financial resources through the site.

Shannon Langan, residence hall coordinator for Goodwin-Kirk and coordinator of wellness programs for the office of residence life, helped bring Buttonwood to Drake after Dean of Students Sentwali Bakari mentioned it to her at a meeting in mid-September.

“Seeing as how financial wellness is a part of the wellness model the office of residence life subscribes to, he came and asked me if I wanted to get involved,” she said.

Langan also said she began working on the project immediately, and students received emails containing the link during the first week of October.

“I thought it was such a good idea; we got on the ball with it very quickly,” Langan said. “We didn’t want to wait to implement it next fall or anything. We thought ‘Even though it’s the middle of the semester, let’s just do this now.’”

The email from Bakari piqued junior marketing and management major Nate Bleadorn’s interest. He has already completed the first module and describes the activities as “very interactive.” He also said that while his finance background had already prepared him for a lot of the topics, the focus on the issues facing current college students and recent graduates was helpful.

“It’s very practical information,” he said, pointing out that loan payment plans, FAFSA forms and loan payment methods are among the concepts the program covers.

Langan said she likes the Buttonwood curriculum because it’s applicable and relevant to so many people.

“Because it covers virtually every aspect of finances college students or recent grads are going to encounter, it essentially crosses over every demographic of a student population,” she said.

Langan cited responsible credit card use, knowledge of student loan repayment requirements and plans and retirement planning as some of the most important aspects of finances a student should know and could learn through Buttonwood.

Bleadorn agreed that the information Buttonwood provides to help students understand is very relevant, but he had one reservation.

“I think it’d be very beneficial if students take the time to sit down,” he said. “But it can take a while.”

So can paying back $34,000 in loans, which is why proponents of the program emphasize that users can go at their own paces and use the interactive activities to learn. Buttonwood’s target demographic is full of people at important decision-making points in their lives who need to know this information, Langan said.

“Ask any financial expert, and they’ll tell you the ages of 21 and 22 can be pivotal,” she said.

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