In an effort to assist students with their financial prowess, the University of Nevada, Reno has implemented a free new program for all students and recent alumni. Offered in partnership with American Student Assistance, SALT, which is not an acronym but a reference to SALT being used as currency, is a resource that makes it simple for students to take control of their personal finances and student loans. The online program is designed to empower students to become more financially savvy.
"Our campus is setting itself apart by taking a leadership role in higher education and providing an ongoing program to our students to help them become financially literate during college and beyond," Tim Wolfe, director of student financial aid and scholarships, said. "Students are rewarded for making smart financial choices, and in the process our institution can boost retention rates and increase student loyalty."
With SALT's unique approach, students and recent alumni can:
- Boost their financial smarts with interactive lessons tailored for the University;
- Track their student loans online at www.SALTMONEY.ORG;
- Find scholarships they're eligible for, so they pay less for school;
- Land jobs and internships to increase their earning power;
- Talk with expert counselors for personal student loan help.
With the national average student loan debt around $25,000, students will likely spend the next 10-30 years paying back the money they borrowed for their education. At the University, the average student with financial aid graduates with around $22,400 in student loan debt. Among Tier 1 public universities, Nevada ranks No. 6 for least debt incurred by graduates. Even though student loan debt is lower than average, University officials recognize the importance for students to understand how their spending can have a lasting impact.
"Students often come to the financial aid office looking for assistance but don't understand how their purchasing habits impact their bigger financial picture," Wolfe said. "They want the latest gadgets and fashions and often won't think twice about the cost. This program is designed to help them understand how their everyday decisions effect their overall finances."
Wolfe emphasizes that the program does not simply offer advice on student loans but on total financial literacy. It allows for students to add personal loans as well as rent, groceries, books and other regular planned expenses. The University is the first in the state to offer this program and is one of almost 250 universities participating nation-wide.
"Salt is allowing me to think ahead after graduation as to how I will pay my loans back," Kamil Shankar, a senior, biology major at the University, said. "It offers a breakdown of standard monthly repayments so you can input your income and see what is realistic for your personal situation."
All University students and recent alumni, who have graduated in the last three years, are eligible to join SALT. SALT uses a variety of channels to meaningfully engage student and alumni members and positively influence behavior. Members receive proactive communication about student loan repayment options; one-on-one repayment counseling with student loan experts; a personalized online dashboard to track all their federal and private student loans in one place and compare payment options; a highly interactive Web financial education curriculum and other educational content; multiple self-serve Web tools and calculators to assist with budgeting; in-person group financial education training at the University; advocacy and assistance with resolving complex student loan related problems; and meaningful benefits and incentives relevant to either the higher education experience or to the financial needs they face after completing college, such as assistance with job/internship and scholarship searches.
"We want to revolutionize the way students finance and repay higher education, transforming them from passive financial aid recipients to instead proactive, financially savvy consumers who truly own their student loans and finances," the ASA website said about the SALT program. "We see a nation made stronger through education and fiscal responsibility."
The University launched SALT at the beginning of October and has signed up five percent of its eligible population. Wolfe's goal is to get 25 percent signed up for the program by May 2014 and to start tracking the difference the program is making.
"As a society we've become burdened with debt and this is our gift to the next generation so they can learn how to manage it well," Wolfe said.