Only 10 percent of high school graduates are financially literate, according to the National Report Card on State Efforts to Improve Financial Literacy in High Schools.
Lack of financial wellness causes a multitude of problems for college students.
The Ohio Student Financial Wellness Survey found that 70 percent of students feel stressed about personal finances and half worry about paying everyday expenses.1 Sixty percent of students surveyed didn’t know how to create a budget and nearly 60 percent had not even checked their bank account balance within the last year.
Financial stress impacts student success in college. The survey found that financial stress causes students to neglect homework (33 percent), reduce class load (30 percent), and even drop out (16 percent).
By offering a financial wellness program, you can help your students reduce financial stress and increase academic success. However, not all student financial wellness programs are created equal. Finding the best fit for your students is up to you.
Why is a Survey Necessary?
Our eye-opening College Administrator Financial Literacy Survey Analysis exposed a large disconnect between what administrators perceived students to need and what those students actually reported.
Although students come to your institution with little financial knowledge, they want to understand finances. In fact, a Sallie Mae and Ipsos survey found that 83 percent of students want to learn more.2 This has encouraged many schools to begin offering financial wellness programs, but many do so without first learning what their students need.
The Trellis Student Financial Wellness Survey found that 63 percent of students worry about paying for college, 57 percent don’t have enough savings for a $500 emergency, 70 percent have run out of money at least once in the past year, 60 percent have more student loan debt than they had expected, and 41 percent borrow money via a credit card.3
The Sallie Mae report also looks at the age of students and their needs. Younger students aged 18 to 20 are worried about frivolous spending (35 percent), while students aged 23 to 24 are more concerned about their debt load.
Based on these numbers, you might determine that a student wellness program would have to include student loan topics, savings, budgeting, and credit cards. Although this is likely to be true, these national numbers do not necessarily represent the specific topics related to the demographics of your student body.
To find the right flexible, individualized financial wellness program, you need to perform a student financial wellness survey. This is simply a set of questions that will help you identify the needs of your students. Since the goal of any financial wellness program is to help students become financially healthy, it is imperative that you first understand what your students need and want, as well as when they most want the information.
Creating the Student Financial Wellness Survey
Creating the right assessment is crucial for getting the answers you need. Best practices for such assessments include asking both objective and subjective questions, as well as “get to know your needs better” questions.
Objective questions include those that have specific numbers or clearly defined yes and no answers. For instance, you can ask a student to estimate how much money they have in savings for emergencies. The student then marks the appropriate box with the right range of savings. You might also ask them if they carry credit card balances from month to month. The student either does or does not and marks the appropriate answer.
Subjective measures include fewer concrete measures and ask more about feelings. You could ask how they feel about following a budget and provide them with a range of answers. The student determines how they feel and chooses the appropriate answer.
The “get to know your needs better” questions are aimed to help you determine what the students need and want from their school. For instance, you can ask how financially stressed they feel with a scale from "no stress" to "highly stressed." Or, you might ask how they would prefer to have their information delivered, giving them the option to choose their top five delivery methods from a list.
Finally, you should include at least one open-ended question. This gives your students the chance to state something that you may not have thought to ask. If the answers to this question begin to show a pattern, such as the need for identity theft education, then you have found something your students want.
The Top Four Questions to Ask
Enrich, along with our partner Wellable, recently researched to find the best questions for a nationwide survey for employees. Though a slightly different demographic, we believe that the following four questions should always be included in any financial wellness survey:
1. How do you feel about your finances?
- Financially unwell/Completely stressed
- Somewhat financially unwell
- Somewhat financially well
- Financially well/No stress
2. Which of the following would motivate you to engage with a financial wellness program? (choose top five)
- Ability to access program on a smartphone
- Ability to share resources with family members
- Ability to track progress
- Ability to compete with peers
- Fun challenges – like a monthly challenge
- Financial incentives – cash or cash equivalents
- Email/text message reminders to participate
- Interactive content and gamification
- Non-monetary incentives (e.g., points, badges, recognition)
- Personalized information, strategies, and recommendations
- Providing clear roadmaps for achieving financial goals
- Recommendation from peers
3. Which media formats do you prefer to receive financial wellness communications and content? (choose top three)
- In-person group sessions
- In-person individual sessions
- Individual telephonic sessions
- Mobile apps
- Online group sessions
- Online individual sessions
- Paper-based materials or worksheets
- Text messages
4. Choose the top five financial wellness benefits you would most likely participate in, if they were offered by your school.
- Automated saving services
- Consolidation/refinancing services (non-student loans)
- Credit score access
- Identity theft protection
- Debt management services
- Student discount programs
- Generalized financial literacy training (webinars/seminars/videos/articles)
- Online financial management tools (e.g., budgeting tools, calculators, etc.)
- Personalized financial counseling/financial planning with certified coaches
- Personalized financial literacy training (interactive online tools, courses/roadmaps for success)
- Student loan counseling
5. What are your top three financial concerns?
- Not having enough emergency savings for unexpected expenses
- Credit card debt
- Student loan debt
- Poor credit
- Not being able to meet monthly expenses
- Not being able to keep up with my debts
- Not being able to pay for college
For more tips on conducting this initial student wellness survey, read “How to Survey Your Students for Financial Wellness.”
With the data you’ve collected, it's time to determine what financial wellness benefits you will offer to your students. You now have the power to address their financial concerns with a program that addresses these needs and increases student financial health.