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Business Officer Magazine
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Launching $ Literacy Is as Easy as F-O-C-U-S

Syracuse University creates a model that can help your institution launch a financial literacy program.

By Margo Vanover Porter

Ready to kick-start your campus financial literacy program? Rebecca L. Rose, assistant director of financial literacy and education programs, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, reveals a handy-dandy FOCUS model for you to follow. (Read also "I Have to Pay for All This?" in the December 2013 issue of Business Officer magazine.)

  • Foundation. Before you can begin to plan your activities and services, you need to answer a few basic questions, including: What is the foundation of your program? What are the morals and values of your university? What do you want to teach students? "You want your program to match those answers," Rose says, "making sure the material you present to students is relevant and matches the university's philosophy and goals." 
  • Order. Next, you'll need to decide what comes first, second, or third. "You can't rush in too aggressively because as you implement the program, you are learning what the needs of the students are," she insists. "Your best critic is your student, and the student of today is different from the student of 10 years ago. You really do have to ask, 'How are we going to roll this out? Are we going to put a Web site up first? Or are we going to do peer mentoring first?' Once you have decided on the order, stay committed to it."
  • Cultivation. During this phase, you'll need to do some digging to find answers to more questions. Among them: Who will deliver the program? Will the program director be a new hire or an existing staff member? Will you need to send the director to training to learn how to deliver the program? What does the director need to learn? "There's not a financial literacy bachelor's program, so we have to self-educate," Rose cautions. 
  • Use campus resources. Don't worry if budgets are low, Rose advises, because you can leverage existing resources on your campus. When launching her institution's services, she networked with different departments on campus, including the parents, first-year, graduate, and commuter-service offices, asking, "Hey, can we get an article in your newsletter?" She explains that at no cost to her program, she succeeded in getting the message out so students could begin receiving financial education. "What can you use across your campus that is low-cost to you?" she asks.
  • Start. Once you have decided what you're going to deliver, whom you're going to deliver it to, and how you're going to deliver it—using the whole campus as a base—you need to commit 100 percent to doing it and get started.

"A financial literacy program helps all of us in higher education, it improves our students, and it makes your campus a better place," Rose emphasizes. "I would recommend that anyone starting out to come up with a plan, start small, and continue the momentum and commitment to the program. When you get one, two, three years out, your hard work will pay off when a student who has graduated and calls you to say, 'You taught me so much. My student loans are almost paid off, and now I want to give back.' I had that exact phone call one year ago. It's amazing.  You don't know how much you impact a student's life until you get calls like that."

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.