How do college students behave financially and plan for the future? Are college students’ financial planning skills getting better over time?
Those are the questions that Money Matters on Campus has tried to answer.
Money Matters on Campus, a study conducted by EverFi and sponsored by Higher One, details the findings from a three-year survey of 43,000 college students from around the United States. Ultimately, the survey strives to understand how college students behave financially and plan for the future.
Money Matters on Campus recently released its 2014-15 report that highlights some very interesting findings and trends among college students and their financial behaviors. The study points out that although the amount of financial experience among incoming college students is increasing, their basic financial management planning skills are not improving. This is a very serious problem.
The study found that today’s students are more likely to have a credit card and more likely to have more than one credit card Additionally, the likelihood of engaging in responsible fiscal behaviors has decreased. Students reported that they are less likely to balance their checkbooks monthly and pay their credit cards both on time and in full each month.
As the practice of sound debt management behaviors among students, such as paying off credit cards on time and in full, has decreased, more students also feel that debt is a necessity. This attitude is especially prevalent when it comes to receiving a degree beyond high school. Students feel that going into debt is inevitable in order to attend college. They are probably right.
While we do not have a problem with student debt, and in fact are in favor of students borrowing to get a good education, we are concerned when students take debt more lightly than they should. How do we fix this? How can we help tomorrow’s college students improve their money management skills?
I would like to propose two solutions to this problem of a lack of financial planning. The first solution would require students in other states to follow those in Utah and take and pass a financial literacy course before graduating high school. In this class, students should learn how to budget and how to navigate the world of financial literacy. Money Matters on Campus found that students who took a class that taught financial literacy had a significant improvement in their financial behaviors.
The second solution I would like to propose involves technology. Money Matters on Campus found that a surprisingly small number of students use technology to manage their personal finances. Young adults are the most connected generation, and there is a great opportunity to connect these young adults to mobile applications or websites that help promote smart money management.
Although the market is flooded with popular personal finance applications such as mint.com, goodbudget.com, and others that help individuals budget, invest, and eliminate debt, few of these applications offer instructional material that teaches individuals why these things are important.
Demand for technology that effectively offers instructional material has given rise to websites such as Khan Academy and Investopedia. Additionally, major banks and credit unions have begun to incorporate budgeting and expense tracking technology into their websites to help users make more informed decisions regarding their finances. However, there is still much to be done to combine instructional software with money management tools to help individuals increase their knowledge, change their behavior, and create financial stability for years to come.
Trends show that students are not improving their financial planning skills. However, through utilizing effective and engaging technology and passing a financial literacy course in high school, it is possible to reverse these troubling trends.
John Hoffmire is director of the Impact Bond Fund at Saïd Business School at Oxford University and directs the Center on Business and Poverty at the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison. He runs Progress Through Business, a nonprofit group promoting economic development.
Jake Busby, Hoffmire’s colleague at Progress Through Business, did the research for this article.
Also see bill requiring financial-literacy class in High School: Act Now