In mid-2012, in response to efforts by the USAC Financial Supports Commission to bring attention to financial literacy needs among students at UCLA, UCLA Student Affairs created the UCLA Student Affairs Financial Literacy Working Group to study the best practices in financial literacy preparedness and make recommendations for increased financial literacy services for undergraduate, graduate, and professional school students at UCLA. The discussion and membership quickly expanded, as the topic is of interest to many constituent groups. Working group membership included many Student Affairs entities, as well as representation from the USAC Financial Supports Commission, the Campus Retention Committee, the UCLA Graduate Division, and the UCLA Office of Government and Community Relations. The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs requested funds to create a program to centralize and enhance financial literacy services for UCLA undergraduate, graduate, and professional school students. This Financial Wellness Program, building on the findings of the Financial Literacy Working Group, aims to increase collaboration and streamline coordination of already-existing financial literacy services at UCLA, hopes to increase the effectiveness of such services, allow services to be expanded to the entire student body, is innovative, and creates opportunities for student employment.
A program that increases students’ “Financial Literacy” teaches life skills that students need in areas such as navigating credit and saving, understanding student loan debt and repayment, making major purchases such as a car or house, and distinguishing necessary financial products from unnecessary ones. “Financial literacy” also means that students know how to live on a reasonable budget, and that they should only borrow as much as they need. Additionally, “Financial Literacy” means students will have the confidence and knowledge to navigate the university’s financial resources successfully, know when, who, and how to ask for help if necessary, and know how and when to apply for scholarships, fellowships, and other educational funding. If applicable, they will also know how, when, and why they should fill out a FAFSA or California Dream Act Application. As this is a time in both our undergraduate and graduate students’ lives where they are becoming more financially independent, and as many of them are from low socioeconomic backgrounds or are first-generation college students, UCLA has an ethical obligation, as a provider of financial products to assist with our students’ cost of education, to make sure they have the information necessary to make informed choices. Front line staff, especially on the UCLA Economic Crisis Response Team, have seen firsthand how many of our students do not have even the most basic knowledge about filing a FAFSA, what is a reasonable amount of loans to accept, which office they should speak to about a particular financial issue, or when to apply for scholarships.
Student Affairs therefore envisions this collaborative pilot program’s outcomes as leading to a successful centralization and expansion of already existing services, as an incubator for determining promising practices, and an effort in readiness to be able to respond to and deliver excellent financial literacy services to our students in line with cutting edge best practices. Such a program, in addition to fulfilling our ethical obligations to our students that they become financially literate, will create the infrastructure necessary to fulfill Student Affairs, UC-wide, and national financial literacy goals for students in higher education