National Leaders Come Together to Discuss Financial Literacy and its Impact on College Persistence

Representatives from over 20 colleges and universities around the country and 25 non-profits, funders, and community organizations came to the Financial Literacy and College Persistence conference held at Menlo College on Friday, January 18, to learn about and share the latest research from experts, perspectives on literacy programs from funders, and best practices for curriculum and program designs.

Provost James Woolever, opened the conference saying, “The issue of financial literacy has become the “talk of the town.” The failings of one generation should not be the condition of the next. The time has come to prepare the next generation.”

Professor Donna Little, Associate Professor of Accounting and Finance at Menlo College, discussed the conference goals and why financial literacy is a “hot topic,” and thanked Citi Community Development for its generous contribution to the event. She also recognized BPM Accountants and Consultants in providing additional conference scholarships. 

“Financial knowledge is positively associated with college retention, but the causality is not clear,” said Lewis Mandell, Professor Emeritus, SUNY Buffalo, the opening conference speaker and financial literacy expert. Mandell, a widely cited and noted financial economist talked about different strategies that colleges and universities can take to help students become financially competent. 

Vincent Tinto, Distinguished University Professor of Sociology at Syracuse University and originator of the prevailing theory in the field of retention, gave his insights about the research on persistence, student retention and why students leave college. Tinto emphasized the value of contextualized academic support and supplemental instruction and noted that the research on student failure in a course and withdrawal suggests a momentum of its own. He mentioned that when students get confused early in a course, they get discouraged. So the solution is to offer support to students in the first two weeks. Additionally, he emphasized the importance of study groups as a strong reinforcement for learning inside and outside the classroom.

After a short break, Rebecca Macieira-Kaufmann, President of Citibank California, spoke about innovation in support of financial literacy in college access programs. She described her involvement with Menlo College since 2010 when a Citi-sponsored program called “Learn and Invest for Tomorrow” or LIFT was launched. The program focused on using financial literacy to enable more low to moderate income youth to make a successful transition into college.

Macieira-Kaufmann also introduced “Kindergarten to College”, a joint program between Citibank and the City of San Francisco, the nation’s first universal savings program automatically open to every kindergarten child in the City of San Francisco school district.

Throughout the day, attendees were treated to several presentations that covered topics ranging from financial resources for students to financial literacy and access to college. Valerie Coleman Morris, Emmy-winning journalist and author, called for personal financial education to start as early as 3 years old at home. Further, she said, it should be reinforced throughout teen to young-adult life so that young people can develop practical financial competency by the time they are in their 20s.

“Financial parenting is by far the strongest link,” argued Joyce Serido, an assistant research professor at University of Arizona’s Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences. In her presentation, she stressed that parenting strongly influences college students’ financial decisions.

“I conceptualize college as a cost benefit analysis,” said Professor Little during her presentation, Financial Literacy and College Persistence: Making the Connection. “I want my students to conceptualize it the same way. Can they analyze the costs? Can they analyze the benefits? Can they put that all together and if they do so, will that enable them to persist, take their courses more seriously, and work toward a goal of graduation, a goal of saving after graduation, a goal of a life plan?”

Other speakers included William L. Vanderburgh, Executive Director of Wichita State University's Office for Faculty Development and Student Success, Timothy Hagan, Financial Literacy Project Coordinator at Wichita State University, Beth Tallman, Coordinator of Financial Literacy Program at Oberlin College, Jenny Flores, Senior Vice President at Citi Community Development, Nicole Ramos, Education Specialist at BUILD, Saundra Davis, financial planner, founder and CEO at Sage Financial Solutions, and Leigh Phillips, Director of the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment for the City and County of San Francisco.