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GatorCast Ep. 8: Every dollar has a job - Understanding financial literacy [Part 1]

By College Relations, Media Services and the Office of the President, May 22, 2019

Episode Resources

Episode Transcript:

President Johnson: Welcome to Green River College's GatorCast. This is Suzanne Johnson, president at Green River College, coming to you today and we are having a topic discussion around financial literacy and financial aid. Okay, before you decide to turn us off on this one, hold up.

Student listeners out there, this is something that a lot of you have told me you struggle with, that you are challenged by how to have a sound financial budget, balancing your checkbook, making sure you don't run out of money from term to term, you can afford your books and afford college, that's what financial literacy is all about. And most students that come to Green River College actually have financial assistance or financial aid. So, again listeners out there, if you think you're the only one that struggles with finding ways to afford college, you actually are in the majority. Most students that come to Green River, or many other colleges out there in our area, are partially supported through other financial means besides what they're making at their jobs. So, with that, we're gonna start talking about financial literacy and financial aid.

Joining me today are two people that work at our Green River College campus up on the hill here. We have Kirsten who is in our Advising and Career office which is on the first floor, or ground floor, of Student Affairs. Room number?

Kirsten Weber: Well, that's a really good question.

President Johnson: I think it's Room 104.

Kirsten Weber: I think it is 104.

President Johnson: And the phone number for Career and Advising?

Kirsten Weber: You'll start with 253-833-9111, extension 2641.

President Johnson: Okay, now Kirsten, I know that you're an advisor in Career and Advising but you actually have a passion for financial literacy and having financial independence for students and so on so we're gonna talk about that in just a second. And then we also have Amanda from our Financial Aid office, and where is Financial Aid, Amanda?

Amanda Smyser: Financial Aid is located on the second floor of the Student Affairs and Success building. If you walk in the main door and turn right, we're the first door right there down the hallway. I believe the room number is 231.

President Johnson: Okay, but you're right above Career and Advising in the same building.

Amanda Smyser: We are.

President Johnson: Which is kinda convenient, especially with our rainy weather with students. And how do students reach Financial Aid?

Amanda Smyser: So, you can call us, our phone number is 253-833-9111, extension 2449. We also serve students on a drop-in basis at our front counter and we have an email inbox that you can email any questions to.

President Johnson: Excellent, excellent. And the email box?

Amanda Smyser: It's finaid@greenriver.edu

President Johnson: Excellent. Before we get into this whole financial budgeting, financial aid topic, Kirsten, tell us a little bit about yourself. What brought you to Green River, how long have you been here, what's your story?

Kirsten Weber: Alright, well I have been at Green River off and on since 2010. I started over in International Programs as an advisor and then worked there for a number of years until I started having kiddos and decided I wanted to be home with my little one so I took a couple years off and then back in 2015, Allison reached out and asked, she's the director of Career and Advising, reached out and asked--

President Johnson: That's Allison Warner

Kirsten Weber: Yes.

President Johnson: She'll be on a podcast in our near future, talking about degree audit.

Kirsten Weber: Yeah, and so she asked if I wanted to come back and work part time and that ended up being a really good fit between having some littles at home and trying to get out of the house and interact with adults again. So, I came back part time and I actually split my time between advising and Running Start and then with financial literacy, I started teaching in the community probably right around the same time in 2010. I had made a huge mess of my finances. Through college I made some pretty poor financial decisions. When I graduated, you know, everyone gets a car when they graduate, so I decided I needed one too. I had student loans to pay back. I married my husband and got his student loans too and we realized we were about $100,000 in debt. We didn't have a house, didn't have anything to show for it. So, we learned what you're supposed to do with your finances and ever since then, I've been trying to help people not make the same mistakes that I made or help them get out of debt when they have realized they've made a mess of it.

President Johnson: Okay, so all of our listeners out here, I think we're gonna get some life hacks today. It's always great if we can learn from others' lessons so we don't have to repeat them or do them ourselves so let's hold the phone on that. How about you, Amanda? Up in Financial Aid, tell us your story.

Amanda Smyser: So, I'm actually from Auburn. Moved here when I was five, grew up in the Auburn school district, graduated from Auburn Riverside High School.

President Johnson: A local.

Amanda Smyser: Yup, definitely a passion for helping my local community. I went to UW Tacoma and while I was there I worked in their Teaching and Learning Center as a writing consultant and that's where my love for helping students really grew, just watching students grow and succeed and being a part of that process, helping 'em develop their own voice in their writing, I just, when I graduated my degree was in Business Management but I just couldn't leave working with students. So, coming back to Green River was great because I got to still work with students but also be helping in the Auburn Community, so it really just kind of merged both of those together. I started in Financial Aid four years ago. I was a program coordinator, so I did a lot of emails, helping at the front counter, answering phones, really just getting to talk to a lot of students and learn about Green River student experience and especially financial troubles. And then about two years ago, I became the student loan specialist and so I started processing all the student loans and I was one of those lucky people who managed to graduate from college without any student loan debt. So, I think I never really realized how much debt people take on until I was processing all of our student loans and just seeing each quarter, the hundreds and thousands of dollars of debt that Green River students are taking out alone and when you multiply that by all the schools across the country, you know, I'm surprised honestly that our student loan debt isn't more.

President Johnson: Well, one of the advantages of attending Green River College is that we are the affordable option. As a public community college, public college, students who come to us or community members who take a course are fortunately able to have a tuition, have course fees, that are less than other institutions in the area and that's one of the benefits of being at Green River. It's so interesting too because often times people don't value things that are inexpensive, as if something that's less expensive is a lesser quality or of value. In fact, Green River College delivers a high quality education that is comparable to any other institution around in the state or outside of the state and incidentally it just happens to be an affordable option. So, I think one of the most important things to say, before we jump into a whole bunch of questions and I know our listeners probably have a ton of questions as well, would be this. “In terms of thinking about whether a person can afford college, is there ever a situation where finances are a reason that one ought not pursue a college degree?”

Amanda Smyser: I think it's not a reason to not pursue a college degree, I think it's a reason to be diligent in picking which college degree to pursue. There's so many different options out there, types of degrees, length of program and cost of school. I think it's about taking the time to diligently weigh your options and figuring out which option's gonna be the best for you because a college education is an investment. So, even if you are putting yourself in debt today, depending on the investment you make, the return on that could be greater than if you hadn't put yourself in debt to begin with.

President Johnson: That's a really good point. And for our listeners, it becomes really important to understand that having some credential or certificate or degree after high school is absolutely essential in the context of long term economic stability and livelihood in our state now and you will hear this over and over again. For students out there that might be Running Start students still in high school or just out of high school beginning college or for the young adults out there listening to this episode, although you may be employed in a particular way right now, the ability to move forward will probably likely hinge on further training, further education. Green River is here to provide that. We know that there are many, many jobs in our state going unfilled because we do not have those who have the necessary skills and abilities to do those jobs and Green River is a viable option for you to come find the right training, the right education for what your needs and your future plans might be. So, keep this in mind, money is never the reason why one cannot achieve a certificate, a credential or a college degree. It's all about the planning, it's all about choosing wisely and choosing correctly for your future. Thank you for bringin' that point out there, Amanda. So, let's jump into some questions. You know, many students think that they're the only ones that need financial help in going to college, that most college students pay for college themselves, is that really true?

Amanda Smyser: It's definitely not true. Just here at Green River alone, we don't have the exact numbers, but it's definitely over 50% of students are receiving some sort of financial assistance.

President Johnson: So, the majority of our students receive financial assistance?

Amanda Smyser: Yeah, and then according to the College Board, about two thirds of students paid for college with the help of financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships.

President Johnson: Now, you'll need to tell our listeners, what's the College Board?

Amanda Smyser: So, the College Board is one of our government entities that does measure kind of statistics in regards to financial aid and student dollars.

President Johnson: So, it's national information, right?

Amanda Smyser: Mhm.

President Johnson: So, two thirds of all students that go to college are receiving some sort of financial assistance.

Amanda Smyser: Yes.

President Johnson: So, if a student feels like they're the only ones that might be looking at how to afford college and thinking that this could be a challenge for them, what they need to know is that this is something that most students have to contend with.

Amanda Smyser: Yeah, it's definitely something every student has to figure out even if you're paying out of pocket, it's still a process and a planning process to make sure you're getting your funding in time for the tuition deadline, making sure you have the resources to pay for the classes you're registering for, and then also making sure you're gonna survive those three quarters and have the funding in place so you can be successful in your classes and complete.

President Johnson: Right, you know one of the other things that I've come to know in some of the Pizza with the President gatherings, students feel self-conscious about asking questions about financial aid or even knowing how to approach the topic of financial aid and it's their impression that other students know this information and know how to get the information and know what to do and since they don't feel like they know how to do things or know what the questions are to be asked, they somehow don't belong here. What would you say to that?

Amanda Smyser: Honestly, I would just let them know that they're not alone. A lot of students that we see in the Financial Aid office are coming in with anxiety and feeling like, you know, they feel like they have to apologize when they first come in because they're asking a question but that's why we're here and that's why the Financial Aid office exists because it's a really complicated process and even us in the office who are experts, you know, we don't know everything and we're always learning with you. So, we appreciate and value your questions and we want you to be successful and if you come in and start the process and ask your questions, then you're gonna be successful and go through the process correctly instead of maybe making some critical error that does impact your education.

I think it helps too with, especially in Student Affairs, all of our offices kind of being on the same page so when someone is meeting with Kirsten in Career and Advising, sometimes talking with a non financial aid person can help you feel more comfortable and they can also point you in the right direction that you need to go and they'll know who you need to be speaking with to get your questions answered. A lot of times when I am working with students on, often times, non financial aid related things, questions of financial aid will come up and all the advisors down there know enough to answer basic questions. And anything that gets a little bit too complicated, we'll definitely get you connected with someone in financial aid that can take care of that.

President Johnson: That's great, and you know when you were mentioning, Amanda, that it's a complicated process and not everybody has all the answers and Kirsten you're bringing this up too. I'll just share with the audience, both of my kids, although not kids anymore, 24 and 22, they both went to college and I had to fill out financial aid forms every year and I will confess to the audience that I never did it correctly the first time. And so, even for a person who has gone through college, graduate school, and familiar with the world of college, life and higher ed, even I as a parent could not get those financial aid forms filled out correctly the first time through. It always had a flag and needed more information or didn't do something correct. So, I think it's just good to put in perspective that this whole process of seeking assistance or seeking financial aid which is quite normative, quite typical for how many finance their educations, is not an easy and clear and obvious road. And so making mistakes, having questions, absolutely is just completely normal. So, let's talk about students and financial aid. A lot of times, students believe that to receive financial aid they have to be a full time student, is that really true?

Amanda Smyser: No, it's not and unfortunately that's one of our, probably, least favorite rumors that goes around. We're not sure--

President Johnson: Oh, so it's a rumor.

Amanda Smyser: We're not sure who started it and who keeps perpetuating it but for financial aid you definitely don't have to be full time.

President Johnson: This is really important 'cause so many of our students come part time. They're not carrying a full course load every term so let's talk more about that.

Amanda Smyser: Yeah, so basically financial aid is kind of like a scale. So, when we award you we're always gonna default to awarding you the full time amounts but every grant and loan has its own requirements and stipulations so if you're less than full time, basically what we do is just prorate your funding down to whatever credit level you're at. And so usually, it's still enough money to cover your education, you just have to let us know that that's your plan and then we can let you know what the new amounts are gonna be and have that discussion to make sure it's all gonna work for you, the student, financially for the quarter.

President Johnson: I love the word you used, a scale, right? So, depending on how many credits you're taking any given term, the financial aid will be in relation to that.

Amanda Smyser: Yes, exactly.

President Johnson: Excellent, so everybody you've heard it here first. You do not have to be full time enrolled at college to be receiving financial aid. So, the myth is now dispelled.

Amanda Smyser: It is, and I hope it stays that way.

President Johnson: Alright, we'll just keep rebroadcasting this episode. If the student uses financial aid, how is tuition paid and what happens to the rest of the money?

Amanda Smyser: So, tuition payment is an automatic process. The student doesn't have to do anything except confirm their credit level with us if they're less than full time. But once financial aid and the credit level match then about a week before the quarter starts, our system just automatically disperses financial aid to pay tuition and fees. And then, if there's any left over money at the start of the quarter, that money is gonna go to the student's BankMobile account.

President Johnson: Okay now, tell me what a BankMobile account is.

Amanda Smyser: So, BankMobile is the company that we contract with to disperse money to students. Basically, they're kind of like an internet bank. They're located in New York and what they do is they receive the money from us and then they disperse it to the student one of three ways. So the student has a choice to either make an account with BankMobile and have a debit card through them or they can just have it direct deposited into their own personal bank account or they can have BankMobile mail them a check but since it does come from New York it usually takes about an extra week, so we--

President Johnson: Oh, that's my hometown.

Amanda Smyser: We recommend they do one of the first two options so they can get their money faster.

President Johnson: The check that they receive is that the money that remains after the tuition has been taken from it?

Amanda Smyser: Yes, so that's the leftover money after tuition has been fully paid and taken care of and then that's the student's money to use for whatever education expenses they may have. So, books, transportation, supplies, even if they need it for living expenses, it's the student's to use, whatever they need it for.

President Johnson: This brings up some interesting things related to budgeting and making sure we're taking care of things that we need for our education. So, most students, now, they're receiving a check once a term?

Amanda Smyser: Yup, so once a quarter. There's a few cases where there may be multiple disbursements but the majority of financial aid students are gonna receive that first check at the start of the quarter and that'll be their money for the whole term.

President Johnson: Okay, so now for our listeners and for students who receive financial aid, you already know this to be the case. So, you're receiving one check and that is supposed to last you the full 10 weeks of the term and some additional time in between terms as it might be, especially if we're thinking about living expenses. So, we're thinking about gas and food and housing. Costs, we're talking about book costs and lab fees and whatever else might be the case. Now, I know even in my life, you know, I get paid every two weeks, right? There's always a budgeting process. You get that money and so let's start talking about more of the financial literacy aspects and creating budgets 'cause we've focusing on financial aid a little bit, how it works and the fact that most students receive some kind of financial aid. So, Kirsten, let's talk about that one check, now, right? So, you're a student or for our listeners out there, your tuition has now been taken out of that monies that you received in terms financial aid, so this is the money that's left over. What kinds of challenges have you found students facing getting that one lump of money right at the start of a 10 week term?

Kirsten Weber: As my dad used to put it, it tends to burn a hole in their pocket, as in they've got the money and they want to spend it. A lot of times this may be the biggest amount of money a student has had and so they think, okay what can I do with this money, not realizing that it does need to last them those 10 weeks until they receive more funds, again, that are supposed to go towards living expenses and the costs of going to school.

President Johnson: Okay, so some planning and thinking about priorities becomes really important. So, since this is a limited amount of money, this is the amount of money they're getting for 10 or so weeks, what are some tips that you can offer today for our listeners and what are the kinds of tips and advice that you're giving to students if they happen to sitting with you as an advisor in our Career and Advising office?

Kirsten Weber: So, probably the biggest thing is really having that budget and I know a lot of people don't like the word budget, it makes them cringe, they think it means that they can't have any fun and that they'll just have to be sitting at home eating Top Ramen and not be able to do anything and actually, budget is actually the opposite. It's having a plan for your money, it's giving yourself permission to spend, permission to do the things that you wanna do but also the things that you need to do and finding that balance. Of course it's gonna start with your basic expenses, things like your housing, making sure that your rent is covered, your utilities are covered, that you've got water and electricity, you've got money for food, that doesn't necessarily mean you're dining out all the time but that you've got money to cover your groceries and that you have a way to get to and from school. So, we always wanna start with those basic expenses, and that's because if we know those things are covered, it gives us piece of mind to then be able to be successful in our schoolwork and successful in our jobs and things that we're doing.

President Johnson: So, I like what you're saying about budget actually doesn't mean you don't have any money, a budget helps you prioritize how the money needs to be spent.

Kirsten Weber: Exactly.

President Johnson: And what I'm hearing you say is the first priority in terms of establishing how you get to spend your money is by thinking about what are the costs that I already have. So, are my books paid for, let me go get my books first. Do I have money planned week-to-week in terms of food? How much does it cost in terms of gas to get to and from school or a bus pass or other needs? How much are the other things that I know I have to pay, either every week or every month? Whether it's the utilities, right, the electricity and so on. So many students have phones, necessary item, right?

Kirsten Weber: Absolutely.

President Johnson: What's their cellphone bill every month, or other types of things that they, you know, can't live without from day-to-day? So, would you say that one of the first things a student should do is sit down, write out a list of all of the bills they have, all of the costs that they have each week and add that up?

Kirsten Weber: Absolutely, and there's actually folks on campus, myself included, and also in our Benefits Hub that have budgeting worksheets where we can sit down and talk about those things. So, personally I used to do what I call the Yellow Pad method of budgeting. I would sit down and, as you said, write out that list of things that I needed to pay for every single month but inevitably I'd get half way through the month and realize I'd forgotten something because I was trying to write it out from my head. Then I started using a budgeting worksheet that already had all the categories listed on there for me. And since then I haven't, most of the time, forgotten anything because it gave me ideas that I didn't already know existed and then instead of forgetting that I had a car insurance payment, it already listed it on there and oh yeah, I do have that and oh yeah, I do have this. So, sometimes sitting down with someone and using an actual budget worksheet works really well for that because you may think of things that you would've forgotten if you used my Yellow Pad method.

President Johnson: Okay, well, I actually have a Yellow Pad method myself but I've had to revise it many times 'cause I've forgotten things.

Kirsten Weber: Yes.

President Johnson: But you've brought up two very important things. Number one is, you're saying that you and other people are available on our campus to sit with a student and help them write out a budget sheet, write out a list of all of these costs and help them calculate out how much it costs to live week-to-week or from month-to-month. So, how would a student go and find these people besides yourself which we know you're located in our Advising and Career office.

Kirsten Weber: Yes, if you come to the Career and Advising Center they can get you connected with the folks who are in the Benefits Hub which is co-located with us.

President Johnson: Okay, so now that was the other thing I wanted to talk about. What is Benefits Hub and how do students access that, where is it?

Kirsten Weber: Yeah, so the Benefits Hub is a program sponsored through the United Way. We have two wonderful folks on campus who are here to help you. They can help with savings and spending plans, how to open and use a bank account, scholarship options, they also do tax preparation or can get you connected with those resources.

President Johnson: For income tax.

Kirsten Weber: Yup, for when you have your tax return. If you're having a problem paying your utilities, paying for bus fare, if you need groceries we actually have a food pantry on campus. They help you with building and understanding credit which is a whole other topic that they can help you with. And if you're having trouble with housing if you have an emergency situation, they can connect you with emergency housing resources as well.

President Johnson: And where is Benefits Hub office?

Kirsten Weber: They are in, if you go to the Career and Advising Center we can get you connected, they're co-located with us.

President Johnson: With you.

Kirsten Weber: Mhm.

President Johnson: So, wow, everybody out there listening, Green River College is one of a handful of colleges that partner with the United Way in our state of Washington and United Way of King County and we have a service called Benefits Hub and it does help with emergency housing, utility payments in terms of heat and lighting, food insecurities, we do have a food pantry on this campus that students can utilize and these are individuals that work at Benefits Hub, that can sit with you and work out budget plans, expense planning, all the things that Kirsten is describing to you. So, you would sit, work out these budget worksheets and then that will help the student know how much money is left over.

Kirsten Weber: Exactly.

President Johnson: And then what do we do with the leftover money?

Kirsten Weber: So, with the leftover money, the goal actually is to not necessarily have anything left but to decide exactly what you're going to do with your money. I found, in my life, that if I have leftover money, I tend to spend it three times because I remember oh yeah, I still had $50 to spend and I wanted a new pair of shoes and then oh yeah, I had $50 to spend. We want to make sure that we give, what I call, every dollar a job. So, it's got something to do, whether that's going into a savings account, whether you decide this month, I'm gonna go ahead and splurge a little bit and go to the movies. But we want to have a plan for all of our money so that we know exactly where it's going instead of wondering where it went.

President Johnson: I love that phrase, every dollar has a job.

Kirsten Weber: Yeah.

President Johnson: And the job could be either paying for your school books, paying for your car insurance, paying for your phone bill, or paying for your future which would mean you're putting that into a savings account or on occasion, paying for just a fun thing, right, when you've got it after those necessities are taken care of. This is really terrific and, you know, I'm so glad we happened onto this Benefits Hub topic because so many students who struggle with housing and homelessness or temporary sheltering needs, food needs, just functioning through the day in terms of getting to campus, to and from, with gas costs and so on. It's really important for them to know about the Benefits Hub resource that is co-located with you in Career and Advising. The other thing that you mentioned is that Benefits Hub will also help students in terms of scholarship eligibility, can you say a little bit more about that?

Kirsten Weber: So, with that one they can get you connected with scholarship resources and we also have the foundation here on Green River's campus as well that helps with scholarships and so any of the advisors within Career and Advising can sit down and chat with you about the scholarships we have available. It's not necessarily just based on financial need, although there are scholarships that are financially based but there's a myriad of options. We definitely want to make sure that if you're eligible and you qualify that we can get you connected with a scholarship.

Karl Smith: Hi listeners, I'm Karl, editor and producer of GatorCast. Thank you for joining us for part one of our two part financial aid and literacy episode. We'll return in two weeks with part two. Thank you for joining us and if you haven't yet, please check out our resources at greenriver.edu/gatorcast. Have a great day.

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