SALT makes managing debt and student loans easier


    From not having enough money during college to making money after graduation, money seems to be topic of conversation for many students. 

    Making it through college without bouncing a check is something to celebrate, but for some, the hole of debt starts in college and only gets deeper.

    To help students address the hole they find themselves in, a university task force from the departments of financial aid and student affairs figuratively brought their shovels and gloves to campus to help students work through the grime and dirt of pre- and post-college debt.

    Their equipment? The new online resource SALT, a financial literacy membership program designed to help university students and alumni manage their debt and student loans, the email announcing the program read.

    Melet Leafgreen and Kathryn Blackham, both assistant directors in the Office of Scholarships and Student Financial Aid, teamed up with Assistant Dean of Student Development Tom Studdert to help students dig out of debt.

    “More students are borrowing and they are borrowing more,” Leafgreen said.

    The two departments started looking into this issue and solutions at the same time without realizing it, Leafgreen said. Student Affairs wanted to address the issues from a student well-being and financial literacy point of view, and financial aid desired to help students with budgeting.

    “Part of being well is being financially well,” she said.

    Kay Higgins, associate dean of student development services and director of parent and family programs, brought these two departments as well as Student Development Services, Housing and Residence Life, Religious and Spiritual Life and Career Services together to make up the first task force to start the conversation.

    All these departments worked to figure out initial problems with student financial literacy, and then gave the assignment to the current task force of three people. Their job is to get students and alumni to use the program.

    The program was introduced to the student body through an email sent to students over the summer and advertising at student orientations. 

    The email read that “SALT was created by American Student Assistance, a nonprofit organization, to help TCU students and alumni become more financially savvy” and that it's free.

    The website includes online lessons about money, guidance and help with student loan management, advice for paying bills and tips about living on a budget, just to name a few. Articles, videos, comics and tools are all featured on the website, covering a range of topics addressing students, their money and how to climb out of debt.

    In addition, the website hosts calculator tools for car loan payments, savings and net worth.

    The current task force is passionate about bringing this resource to students even though sometimes students don't realize what they need until they really need it, Studdert said.

    Studdert explained that some students struggle with budgeting because it's something that was never taught in high school. Others, he said, will never have to deal with it because of assistance from their parents.

    “But come graduation, they are going to need to know it,” he said.

    Financial understanding of the world comes to fruition around junior year when students begin thinking about internships and careers, Studdert said.

    Blackham and Leafgreen said they are passionate about helping students repay their loans after working with student loans and financial aid at the university.

    Leafgreen explained that about 96 percent of the student population repays their loans well, but it is the four percent that they want to prevent falling into a hole in which they cannot get out.

    Studdert pointed out the responsibilities of universities to teach students to borrow well and pay back loans if they are accepted into an institution they cannot originally afford without borrowing.

    He said that too often universities do not meet this responsibility.

    “Lots of institutions of higher education are guilty of saying ‘here’s the red carpet, let us roll it out for you,’ and then they get there and suddenly they can’t afford it.” Studdert said. “It creates an access and inequality issue.”

    Studdert said that higher education administration is usually about eight steps behind with student trends, like using Facebook and other social media. With this issue, though, they are right on time because this trend is receiving national attention.

    Student Affairs is in the process of hiring a part-time staff member to engage students in financial literacy, he said. In addition, a student ambassador program will start to supplement this effort.

    Leafgreen said the task force is pleased with the numbers of students and alumni already signed up for the program but want everyone to know about the program and the resources it has to offer. 

    Leafgreen said that neither she nor Blackham have a degree in marketing, but they want to get the word out to all students and alumni.

    The task force wants to help students talk about money and is ready to address this national issue.

    “You know their stories," Blackham said. "You know how hard it is for them to be here. You know how much they want to succeed in the world, and I would just like to see them have every opportunity to be able to fulfill their dreams."

    "Them being able to repay their loans is definitely a part of that.”