April 20, 2018


Money Matters: Teaching Students Debt Avoidance

Lauren Reiter


Business & Economics Librarian, Pennsylvania State University, University Park


MLIS, University of Pittsburgh, 2012


libraries.psu.edu/psul/business/sfec.html; psu.libguides.com/financial-literacy; financialliteracy.psu.edu/moneycounts

Photo ©2016 Shawn G. Henry

Financial literacy is a lifelong learning experience, and students are at an important, if often embryonic, stage in the process. Few people have taken that more seriously than LJ Mover & Shaker Lauren Reiter, Business & Economics Librarian, Pennsylvania State University.

Believing that universities should support their student’s financial well-being, and after hearing a lot of talk on campus at Penn State University about student debt and the financial illiteracy of college students, she took action. In 2012 she began work on a resource guide.

“It was a way for the library to express interest in the topic and offer support,” Reiter, the Sally W. Kalin Librarian for Learning Innovations and Business Liaison Librarian at Penn State’s University Libraries, says. “However, the field of financial literacy was uncharted territory.”

“But putting together resource guides was very familiar,” says Reiter, who got her master’s degree in library information science in 2012 from the University of Pittsburgh.

The guide, designed to serve as a low-barrier entry point and a way to ease into an exploration of how libraries could get involved in campus financial literacy, had unintended consequences. Financial literacy experts from other campus units emerged, as if from the woodwork. One thing seemed to lead to another.

Soon after, the University decided to stage a Financial Literacy Month. Workshops were scheduled, sessions overflowed with students, and waiting lists formed. Attendees who couldn’t find a seat sat on the floor or stood in the back of the classroom.

“We definitely struck a chord,” says Reiter.

The next step seemed logical: turn a one-time event into an ongoing one. The result was MoneyCounts, a monthly series where students absorb wisdom from financial literacy thought leaders.  The main presenter is Dr. Daad Rizk, financial literacy manager at Penn State, but some months she is joined by guest presenters such as Dr. Cathy Bowen, a Penn State professor who specializes in consumer issues.

Attendees eat pizza while listening to the lectures and participating in the discussion. They pore through worksheets they can later use for budget tracking, loan management, or other activity, depending on the focus of the session.

That was just the beginning. The following year, working with the University Park Undergraduate Association, she established the Student Financial Education Center. There, students are trained as peer educators to consult on money management.

Reiter’s efforts have prompted Penn State’s University Libraries to establish an endowment for financial education, which will further her work.

Other universities are taking note. Reiner has heard from other university libraries that want to put these types of programs in place.

“If a university wants to create a peer program, it is important to remember to keep the student volunteers or interns engaged in building it,” she says. “Giving students plenty of opportunities to take ownership and shape the direction of the program is one way to do that. There are also peer financial education programs that have been established on college campuses by non-library units that can serve as excellent models.”

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