Sharing Lessons Learned from Financial Wellness Initiatives

Melissa Maichle .

As college tuition continues to rise, many students struggle to balance their academic responsibilities with their financial obligations. This can lead to a variety of issues that impact student retention and completion rates, such as dropping out of school, taking longer to graduate, and increasing their overall debt burden. In recent years, colleges and universities have started to implement financial wellness initiatives to help students manage their finances and ultimately achieve academic success. In a recent electronic announcement, Federal Student Aid further affirmed the importance of these programs, sharing the Financial Literacy and Education Commission’s report which included helpful resources to facilitate these type of activities. In order to supplement these, here are some key lessons learned regarding the impact of financial wellness initiatives across college campuses:

Lesson 1: Financial wellness initiatives can help reduce financial stress and improve academic performance:

One of the primary benefits of financial wellness initiatives is that they can help reduce financial stress for students. Financial stress can be a major distraction that interferes with a student’s ability to focus on their coursework, leading to lower grades and lower retention rates. Financial wellness initiatives oftentimes help students learn how to budget, manage debt, and make informed decisions about their finances, thereby alleviating such anxiety, allowing them to better focus on their studies.

Lesson 2: Financial wellness initiatives provide a pathway to develop positive relationships with students:

Financial wellness initiatives create positive engagement opportunities, via programing that assists students manage their finances more effectively. By investing and assisting with these initiatives, financial aid offices foster a sense of trust that encourage students to engage with other types of programing, including topics such as student loan repayment, cost-of-attendance budgeting, and emergency assistance resources, which ensures continued engagement. These positive experiences add visibility to the resources our offices provide, and encourage students to reach out more often and personally for further guidance and support, thereby broadening the overall impact of the office and its initiatives within the college campus.

Lesson 3: Financial wellness initiatives can improve overall levels of student satisfaction:

Financial stress has been determined to be a factor that can lead to decreased student satisfaction with their college experience. In response, financial wellness initiatives help alleviate this stress by validating and naming the concerns students are facing, while providing actionable resources for students to better their current situation. This generally improves overall levels of sense of belonging among students, as they are empowered and granted additional supports to better their particular circumstances.

Lesson 4: Financial wellness initiatives can foster key partnerships across institutional departments:

To be successful, financial wellness initiatives should be collaborative, including support from various departments, such as financial aid, student life, multicultural support centers, and academic services. This allows different offices to leverage their specific resources, expertise, and experience in partnership to develop more robust programing in support of students.

Lesson 5: Financial wellness initiatives need to be tailored to meet the needs of different student populations:

Not all students have the same financial needs or challenges. Therefore, financial wellness initiatives need to be tailored to meet the needs of different student populations. Limited income students, for example, may struggle with having to balance their own personal budgets while providing assistance to their immediate family. College athletes, on the other hand, may struggle with how to allocate or leverage their refunds, or with how to negotiate contracts related to the use of their image and likeness. As such, financial wellness initiatives cannot be seen as a one-size fits all solution and should instead be tailored to address the specific needs of each particular student population.

In conclusion, financial wellness initiatives can have a significant impact on issues of retention and completion for college students. By reducing financial stress, improving relationships and student satisfaction, fostering collaboration and strategic partnerships, while tailoring initiatives to meet the needs of different student populations, colleges and universities solidify the positive outcome of these initiatives. To that end, colleges and universities need to be intentional in how they enact financial wellness initiatives in support of their students. For assistance or guidance on how to develop or run these types of programs, feel free to contact the Higher Education Assistance Group’s Interim Staffing Solutions or email us at