Washington University sophomore Sloane Wolter was in her early teens when the housing market crashed, triggering the financial crisis of 2007-2008. As a member of her high school debate team, Wolter was tasked with presenting a speech on the causes of the recession, and she recalls reading up on the crash for weeks on end to prepare. Along with gaining an understanding of the myriad, complex factors behind it, she took away some key principles to apply to her own financial future.
"It was a very formative time for me," she says. "I've seen family members go through periods of unemployment and I know how much competition there is for every job. That has really made me concerned for the future. Though I plan to go on to a doctorate program after I complete my undergraduate degree, there are no financial guarantees in my life. We need to develop an attitude of frugality and thrift now, not later, because getting out of debt can take years and limit our ability to save for retirement, a huge need for people my age."
Wolter is hardly alone, with recent surveys, such as that from the iOme Challenge, suggesting that a majority of millennials share her concern for financial security. And not only college students but people at all stages of life can benefit from a stronger understanding of financial matters. In an effort to foster this awareness, the Washington University Libraries are collaborating with several partners across campus to offer resources and opportunities for students and for faculty and staff to take more control of their financial future during Money Smart Week in early April. Two events on Tuesday, April 8, in Olin Library—a lunchtime gathering for faculty staff and a 6 p.m. pizza party for undergrad and graduate students—will feature speakers and conversation on topics such as managing credit and debt.
Trinidy Combs, a junior majoring in systems engineering, says she definitely sees a need for connecting students to accurate, useful resources to help them navigate an aspect of life where so often major decisions are made with too little information.
“It's really important, especially for first-generation students who don't have as much information about college and paying for it," says Combs. A transfer student as well as a first-generation college student herself, Combs has been proactive in shoring up her own knowledge of financial matters and is eager to see her peers learn more, too.
"Before I got my first credit card, I did a lot of research," she says. "But I'm the type of person who reads everything. A lot of my fellow students have little clue how credit cards really work."
It's never too early to build good habits and get prepared, adds Stephen Decker, a sophomore in the School of Engineering with majors in computer science and political science. Decker turned his own passion for this topic into a Clinton Global Initiative project last year, collaborating with members of the WUSTL administration, Student Financial Services, the St. Louis Community Credit Union, and the Brown School of Social Work to help students at the local KIPP Inspire Academy middle school begin preparing for the financial burden of college.
"We focused on providing resources to KIPP parents to start saving as early as possible, because saving, when done with patience and time, can be very powerful," Decker says. "I think the Money Smart Week pizza party is a great idea, as it is very important for my generation to start building good credit and to find adequate resources to plan for the rest of our lives."
Trevor A. Dawes, an associate university librarian at WU Libraries and president of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), has helped lead a broad initiative to make academic libraries more active hubs of access to educational resources that can help people more effectively manage their finances.
"There has been a lot of focus, especially at the federal level, on the high cost of higher education. Washington University is committed to making education affordable and accessible to a more diverse student body," Dawes says. "So these topics are important, and I'm very pleased that we are hosting these events on campus. Any of us, and I include myself in that category, can benefit from learning more about how to be financially savvy."
Recently the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has partnered with the Libraries to enhance librarians' ability to connect students and others to helpful, objective information, and library staff have created research guides on money-related topics. These are the sorts of starting points and resources that Adi Redzic, executive director of iOme, a nationwide movement to inspire college students and millennials at large to take ownership of their financial future, says make libraries critical to the effort.
"Much like Wash U is doing with Money Smart Week, librarians can help move the learning curve forward," Redzic says. "Changing the culture around financial education—around our own money talk—takes time and a lot of effort and creativity, but if there is a place on a college campus that has the passion for literacy, the resources, the people, and often serves as a hub of academic life, that would be the library."
Redzic will be speaking at the student pizza party along with Andy Meyer of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Redzic, who came to America as a young man with "375 bucks and a dream," says he hopes attendees walk away believing that they have the ingenuity and the capacity to set out along a successful path and face life's challenges.
"To do so, however, we need to acquire the appropriate skills, and those basic skills include the ability to speak about money, seek advice, and manage it wisely," Redzic says. "I hope to challenge them to spend time imagining what they want their life to be like and then take the responsibility to achieve it. And also ask for help in doing so. None of us has made it alone, but with the help of others there are few limits as to how far we can go, both personally and professionally."
Co-sponsors of Money Smart Week at Washington University include the Libraries, TRiO student support services, the School of Medicine's Office of Student Financial Planning, the Washington University Alumni Association, Treasury Services, Career Services, Human Resources, Residential Life, and the Office of Government and Community Relations.