Season 5 - Episode 516
Every college student faces questions about finances as they plan for the future while navigating the present. In this Baylor Connections, Sara Ray, program manager for Student Financial Literacy at Baylor, shares how her office provides resources to build financial literacy and equip them, through individual counseling and education programming, to prepare for success
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith. And today we are talking literacy with Sara Ray. Sara serves as the program manager for Student Financial Literacy at Baylor. She's passionate about helping students navigate the complexities of personal finances and plan for their futures. April is a good time to talk about this. It is Financial Literacy Month, and we're going to highlight some of the resources housed within the Paul L. Foster Success Center at Baylor within the office to serve students. Student Financial Literacy helps Baylor students understand personal money management to develop the financial knowledge and skills necessary for both current and future financial wellness through one-on-one coaching, online education and more. They help students find success at Baylor and beyond. It's a new program. Sara Ray you said, you've been here at Baylor talking to you beforehand about eight months. It's great to have you on the program and great to have you doing this.
Sara Ray:Yeah, it's wonderful to be here.
Derek Smith:Well, I said April's Financial Literacy month. Let's just start there. What does that mean? What does this month mean to you and your colleagues?
Sara Ray:Yeah, so April's always an exciting month in my field. So really for being a brand new program, what it means for us is we are getting the word out that we exist for one thing, but we're kind of spreading the message about what financial literacy is. So financial literacy is the knowledge and the skills needed to navigate your own personal financial situation as well as the wider economy. So one of the most important skill sets I believe that students need is just the freedom and the comfort to actually talk about their personal finances. It's not something that in our society or in our culture, we talk a lot about. And so my office really allows students to have that space to start asking questions that maybe they've never asked anyone before.
Derek Smith:Well, let dive into your office a little bit. What led to its formation and helped shape what you offer?
Sara Ray:Yeah, so like we talked about, I am really brand new to Baylor. So before I arrived, there were staff members in the Paul L. Foster Success Center that we're seeing the need for students to have a space to learn about personal finance. And then the provost in particular was really interested in starting a program. At previous universities she'd been at, she'd seen some examples of financial literacy work before. And so really they were in a place where, Hey, we should start something. So it was started a little bit as a side project by some staff members in the Paul L. Foster Success Center. And then they quickly realized, Hey, the scope of this work is huge. We need to hire a full-time staff member, hence I'm here.
Derek Smith:Well, that's great. And you came here about eight months ago as you said. When you heard about this opportunity, what stood out to you? What made you want to pursue it?
Sara Ray:Oh, so I was doing my graduate work at Iowa State University in financial counseling and planning. And really when I saw the job posting, I was so excited to see that Baylor as a Christian university was starting a program. It's a passion of mine to really kind of cement our work in Christian principles of stewardship and generosity. And so this is the first time I'm working in a space where I can bring my faith into my work. And so that's what really excited me about coming to Baylor.
Derek Smith:Talking to Sara Ray, program manager for Student Financial Literacy. And Sara, what about this calling in general, what interests you about working with students in particular in building financial literacy?
Sara Ray:So I think what really excites me is that when I was in college, I didn't have a program like this. And I had so many question about personal finance that I and my peers were having trouble navigating. So when I was in college, I worked a lot in a program called supplemental instruction and in tutoring, so on the academic side of helping students. And I just kept thinking, what if there was something for personal finance, where I was doing this type of work with students. And so I just kind of found my way through undergrad and into grad school, into doing financial literacy work. And that's really what I feel passionate about, is making a space for students to get their questions answered.
Derek Smith:Sara, I'm guessing with a lot of people we don't need to sell too hard, the need for something like this, because most of us need to only look at our own lives somewhere along the way to realize the importance of this. But let's talk about students, whether you're talking about here at Baylor or beyond probably a lot of overlap certainly, but general broad question here, but how would you describe where most students are when it comes to having been provided with financial literacy education?
Sara Ray:So, yeah, so I would say most students have maybe received some amount of financial education, maybe from parents perhaps, maybe a little bit of instruction on setting up a bank account or budgeting. Some have a deep interest in investing and they've taught their children a little bit about that, but it's really hit or miss typically. And then there is a big push in instilling financial literacy education in our K-12 system. Texas has been working on that for a number of years, but what we are starting to learn from research is this period of being college age is a perfect time to learn about personal finance, just based on young people's brain development. Their brains are primed and ready to learn about this complex decision making because the young adult brain isn't done developing until about the age of 25 or later. And the part of the brain that's developing is the decision making center of the brain and numeracy skills are increased.
Sara Ray:So it's a great time to start doing some of this work. In addition to that, for me, I operate off of a principal called just in time education. So it's this point where students are suddenly realizing, Hey, I just started college and I need to budget. Or I'm about to graduate and I need to know about cost of living, and insurance, and investing. And they're deeply interested in these topics and they get excited about them. So it's the perfect opportunity to do this type of work.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Sara Ray, program manager for Student Financial Literacy at Baylor. It's also a very important time just when you think about where every student's going to be within four years or some come this spring here in just a couple of weeks, but also just the complexities of the world we live in coming out of COVID. You've got a lot of students with student debt. What factors do you see as maybe most, even more so right now, feeding into that need for this for student?
Sara Ray:Yeah. So I would say just the financial world constantly gets more and more complex. It's just part of finance. New laws are passed to regulate like, Hey, financial companies can't do this anymore. So they come up with a new, innovative product that's even more confusing and complex. So we kind of always see that in the finance space. So we're always adapting to provide information about how young people and just people in general can navigate this complexity. So it's just part of being in a modern economy. Everything is complex in the finance space.
Derek Smith:You mentioned that students, if they have financial information, literacy teaching to them, a lot of it's from their parents, but it can be hit and miss. Are there other areas you find students get stuff from? Are there ever any things you have to counter with students?
Sara Ray:Yeah, definitely. So one of the places that I often talk to students about is getting information from their peers. So one thing I'm actually studying in my dissertation right now is that a lot of students compare themselves to their peers as far as what are my peers purchasing? What are my peers doing as far as like eating out? And I should be doing that too, whether they can afford it or not. So it's always about keeping up with their peers.
Sara Ray:The other space I'm really starting to see students get interested in based on interacting with their peers and then the media is in really complex financial products. So I recently talked to a couple of students who, they are graduating soon. They don't have a lot in savings, but they have purchased individual stocks and cryptocurrency during their time in college. And it's sort of like, well, it would've really been nice if you actually had that money as cash right now because you have some big expenses coming up. And so those kind of really interesting kind of investment products fascinate some students, but they're not quite ready for them yet because they don't have the basics down yet
Derek Smith:Talking to Sara Ray. And Sara, as we dive into some of the nuts and bolts of the program itself, I want to ask, you're here. Tell me about the team and how you sort of fit in with everything else at the Foster Success Center.
Sara Ray:Yeah. So let me go ahead and I will tell you about the Student Financial Literacy office itself and how we fit in with the Success Center. So our office consists of several different initiatives within it. So we offer workshops and outreach events. We offer online services, but our cornerstone program that we're really working on building up is our peer to peer student money management coaching program. So this is where we are taking mostly undergraduates, some graduate students if they have the time and the interest in it and we are training them from the basics of budgeting and goal setting all the way up to advanced financial topics. And then they are the people that are going to work in one-on-one appointments with their peers.
Sara Ray:And so it's really an exciting model for students to help students. And then within the Paul L. Foster Success Center, we interface with in some way with almost every program in the Success Center. So a couple of examples are we are currently working with the McNair Scholars Program to help their students who are investigating options for graduate school. We're helping them figure out what are the financial implications of going to graduate school. We work with the vets program to help veterans navigate their own unique financial circumstances. And then we work a lot with our advising and academic programs in referring each other to each other's services all the time. So it's a great place to be just to serve students.
Derek Smith:And you are the program manager, but you've got a staff as well.
Sara Ray:Yes, I'm the program manager. And then currently I have a staff that consists of a PhD student and eight undergraduates.
Sara Ray:So we literally just hired six of those undergraduates this month and they're in training. Two of them started in January.
Derek Smith:That's great. This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Sara Ray, program manager for Student Financial Literacy in Baylor's Paul L. Foster Success Center. So let's talk about some of the ways that you provide students with resources. I want to start first by just asking you, so there's the fundamentals, right, that everyone needs to know. That no matter where you come from whether it's just spending less than you make or making sure you have some liquid assets, but then everyone's needs are different too. What's that balance like for you in providing basics for students to get the of fundamentals, but then also going deeper based on their own situation?
Sara Ray:Yeah, absolutely. So there's different ways that we sort of use our services to do the fundamentals and then individualize. So for example, our workshops are pretty basic. We offer kind of five topics. So that's budgeting, goal setting, credit cards, student loans, and then one workshop that we're still prepping is a moving out of the dorms workshop. So those are the basics. Often our workshops serve as a teaser to get students interested in setting up a coaching appoint with us. So then within the coaching appointment, our coaches are trained to really start with those fundamentals. So if we have a student who signs up for say doing a budgeting coaching session, we're going to use our, kind of our basic starting budgeting strategy with those students. And then as they get the basics down of budgeting, we show them how you can individualize that or use a different budgeting method and customize it to that student stage of life, their own unique interests and needs and just what works for them. So we start with kind of, here's the basic way of doing this and then what do you uniquely need.
Derek Smith:Talking with Sara Ray. And let's talk about some of these different resources more specifically. So one-on-one coaching, what can students expect and what would the experience be like if I jumped into one of those?
Sara Ray:Yeah. So be basically what you can expect at the point of signup through our website is you are going to be asked to complete a pretty short survey to give us some information about your financial situation and what you're looking for. We ask about financial stress level, student loan debt, if you have student loan debt, if you know you have student loan debt, because sometimes students don't know whether or not they have student loan debt and amount. So then once students check in for their appointment currently, we're doing them all virtually through the end of the semester. In the fall, we're going back to, we're doing them in person, which we're really excited about.
Sara Ray:So when students check in for their appointment, our coaches just start with kind of getting to know the student and more about their situation based on what they supplied in the survey. And then it's a conversation between the coach and the client to find out based on what you're coming to us for, where do we need to guide you? What questions do you have? So it's always a lot of back and forth and really looking at the individual and what they're asking for.
Derek Smith:What students have come visit with you? Do they have homework or what do they do to take away? Is it simply they go back and try to apply it or they keep visiting? What's that look like?
Sara Ray:Yeah. So it's always up to the student. So we encourage students to return. So I'll take the budgeting example again. So the budgeting process that we start students with is what we call budget, track budget. So this is where we work with the student in their first session to set up a projected budget for the upcoming, say two weeks, if they're paid biweekly or for the upcoming month, if they would prefer to work with a monthly budget. So we're setting up their projected budget, what they think they're going to have as income and what they think they're going to have as spending. So that's the first budget part. Then we ask them to track all of their spending for at least a month. So this is the check in to see am spending what I thought I was going to spend? And they're going to check in to see what are my spending habits?
Sara Ray:If I work pretty infrequently, was my income what I thought it was going to be? So for the second budget of budget, track budget, we ask them to set up a second appointment with us. So we can basically look at that data and say, Hey, you were right on like rent and utilities, but man, you over spent on groceries and eating out. So do you want to adjust that? What do you want to do in the next upcoming month? And that's kind of the process of figuring out a budget. Most people need to do that for at least three months to really have a solid idea of what their spending looks like.
Derek Smith:I got to think for most of us unless we do that, our perception probably doesn't quite match reality.
Sara Ray:No, it really doesn't.
Derek Smith:So you have the personal resources. What about online resources?
Sara Ray:Yeah, so currently our main online resource is an education platform called Financial Literacy 101. So this is a third party education platform that our office pays for and students can sign up for this education platform. And it's just a whole library of self-paced kind of readings and videos and tools that students can utilize, however they want. So there's the basics of budgeting and goal setting, but you could also learn about credit cards, identity theft, your credit report, renters insurance, auto insurance, buying a car, the sky's the limit on what's in that library of courses. So it's a great way for students to even get feel out, what do I even have questions about and start exploring some topics before they come and talk to us in a coaching session.
Derek Smith:Now you're about eight months in and you probably get a lot more data points as time goes on, but what services are most popular would you say?
Sara Ray:So I would say currently because I'm only eight months in the Financial Literacy 101 platform is really popular at the moment. And it's what we refer a lot of students to while we've been getting the rest of the office set up. But I've been seeing an increase in requests for different programs across campus for workshops. And then people are really excited about the coaching program.
Derek Smith:Are there any topics that you find resonate most? Any specific topics?
Sara Ray:Oh, so I feel like I get questions about every single personal finance topic honestly from, so last week I did a workshop and I had students come up to me afterwards and ask me about how do I plan for financing grad school, student loans, credit cards, just basically like, where should I even start looking for information since I'm graduating in May? So there's all sorts of questions and topics that students ask us. And I think it just comes down to because we have so little financial literacy education, people have questions about basically everything.
Derek Smith:That makes sense. Are there any books or resources you recommend, podcast, anything like that, that students or their parents might want to recommend to them?
Sara Ray:Yeah. So the book that I recommend that I really like to get people started is called The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to Be Complicated by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack. It's just a really kind of no nonsense look at kind of rules of thumb, of getting started on personal finance in general. Then the other kind of fun resource I send people to is PBS Digital Studios has a really fun YouTube series called Two Cents. It's made by two financial planners. They're a couple based out of Austin and it's just a really fun look at personal finance topics. And it's produced really, really well. I've used it in like a lot of my courses to teach different concepts.
Derek Smith:And finally, if there's one actionable step that you would have every student on campus do, what would that be?
Sara Ray:Track their spending. Yep. That's where I start.
Derek Smith:Easy enough.
Sara Ray:That's always where I start people, is track your spending.
Derek Smith:Well, Sara we really appreciate your time today. And before [inaudible 00:21:54] I'll ask you if people want to learn more, take advantage of your resources, what's the best way for them to take that first step?
Sara Ray:Go to our website, which is baylor.edu/sfl. Or you can just Google Student Financial Literacy Baylor.
Derek Smith:That's great. Well hope people will take advantage of that and really a great resource here at Baylor. Sara, thanks so much for taking the time to share with us today.
Sara Ray:Thank you.
Derek Smith:Sara Ray, program manager for Student Financial Literacy, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. Reminder, you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.