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USM Offers Program to Help Students with Financial Literacy

Managing money is just one of many stressful obligations that confront college students. The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) offers a program that can lessen that daunting burden.

The University is partnering with iGrad, an interactive online platform that supplies a suite of educational tools on financial topics such as budgeting, financial aid, banking, investing and more.

The platform features videos, calculators, articles, recommendations, games and other resources to help students improve their financial stability and well-being. The platform is free to all currently enrolled students, as well as faculty and staff.

The program is administered through USM’s Office of Undergraduate Scholarships as part of the University’s F.L.I.G.H.T. (financial literacy, insight, growth, help and teachings) initiative that was launched in 2018. F.L.I.G.H.T. is designed to provide a hands-on approach to financial education that will prepare students, parents and the public in creating financial stability to thrive.

“It is vital to Southern Miss students that we provide adequate financial literacy education to them since academic success and financial stability coincide,” said Jasmine Coleman-Miller, Senior Coordinator for Undergraduate Scholarships and Financial Literacy. “For many students, they are obtaining their first jobs, living on their own for the first time, trying to help provide for their families, buying or saving for their first automobile and juggling various other financial obligations alongside with financing their education.”

Coleman-Miller explains that a recent survey of USM students showed that 78 percent felt stressed about their personal finances in general. The survey also found that many students did not receive financial education in high school or had any interaction related to financial education through the college journey.

“When students have a better understanding of financial wellness, it helps with reducing financial stress and financial anxiety, and can improve their decisions related to academic choices such as getting involved on campus, attending graduate school, transferring schools or dropping out,” said Coleman-Miller. “By ensuring we provide our students with a better foundation of financial literacy, we can better prepare them to have a financially stable future.”

Holly Grider, Assistant Director for First Year Programs at USM’s Center for Student Success, notes that first-generation and first-year students may not have been exposed to many of the phrases or processes used when referring to financial aid, credit, and budgeting.

“Having programs like this allow for students to learn at their own pace and find answers to questions they may be embarrassed to ask a staff member or peer,” said Grider.

As Coleman-Miller explains, USM’s Office of Undergraduate Scholarships discovered that approximately 63 percent of students felt that they could not produce an emergency fund of at least $400. Even though the University awards roughly $23 million in scholarship funds, there are often additional collegiate expenses or personal financial burdens that students encounter.

“Sometimes, it ultimately comes down to educating the student on various financial matters and helping them manage their own finances in order for them to make better, informed financial decisions overall,” said Coleman-Miller. “It is important that they are educated about the different financial considerations that they and their family have as they pursue their education.”

Daleana Phillips, Assistant Director, TRIO Student Support Services at USM, points out that iGrad fills a gap that many college students experience, especially early in their higher education careers.

“Financial wellness programs, such as iGrad, are essential for providing students with the necessary information to make smart financial decisions while in college and throughout their lives,” said Phillips. “For many students, this is their first encounter with financial wellness topics such as understanding financial aid, credit, savings, and budgeting.”

Among its multitude of assets, iGrad also features an avenue for students to sync with the Department of Education to view and stay on top of their student loans. Additionally, an external scholarship feature provides credible and vetted scholarship opportunities for students that can help make college more affordable.

Ashley Jones, Coordinator of Parent and Family Programs at USM’s Center for Student Success, notes that working directly with retention initiatives for many years, she has witnessed that finances remains one of the greatest hindrances to students achieving the ultimate goal of graduation.

“The taboo topic of finances – especially tuition, payment plans and loans – is the most common subject discussed in my success coaching sessions and general interactions with college parents and families,” said Jones. “While college students are transitioning into their newfound status of young adulthood, they are simply uninformed with how to make good financial decisions. While the deficient of money management continues to decline amongst college students, programs such as iGrad are tools that we desperately need to aid in student’s competency of budgeting, smart spending and saving while in college, and post-graduation as they become citizens in the working world.”

USM students can access the iGrad website directly at https://southernmiss.igrad.com/ or by clicking the gold link provided directly on this homepage: https://www.usm.edu/undergraduate-scholarships/