Financial Empowerment Initiative Shows Vital Link Between Financial Literacy and Student Success


Silver Spring, MD (December 3, 2014) – Community colleges looking for ways to implement sustainable financial education services have a new resource thanks to a new report from Achieving the Dream and MDC. Building Capability, Empowering Students, and Achieving Success: The Financial Empowerment for Student Success Initiative follows three Achieving the Dream Leader Colleges in their journeys to build and scale financial management programs and services that reduce obstacles to college completion. The two-year effort to improve student success was made possible with generous support from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation.

“Positioning community college students to earn credentials takes more than focusing on academics,” said William E. Trueheart, President and CEO of Achieving the Dream. “This work has revealed how critical it is for colleges to help students reduce financial barriers. Financial capability programs equip students with the knowledge, skills, and access to resources needed to manage their money and reduce financial trouble.”

Community colleges serve students who face more severe financial challenges that can affect their ability to reach their educational and career goals. A 2011 Public Agenda survey found that of 600 young people who dropped out of college before earning a degree, 54 percent cited the need to “work and make money” as the primary reason for leaving. In addition, 60 percent of respondents noted that the cost of fees beyond tuition was a major barrier to completion.

“Community colleges are uniquely equipped and well positioned to reach millions of Americans striving to improve their lives and support their families,” said David Dodson, President of MDC. “Our experience shows that when effective strategies such as financial coaching and instruction are provided to students, more of them are able to stay in school, finish what they start, and be on the path to a better job.”

With funding from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Achieving the Dream and MDC established the Financial Empowerment for Student Success (FESS) initiative, enabling three community colleges to expand financial services support to more of their students. Through this initiative, Los Angeles Harbor College, the Community College of Baltimore County, and the Houston Community College System received assistance from Bank of America staff volunteers, opportunities to participate in a learning network, and coaching and consultation services.

Participating colleges identified students who were most in need of financial services and provided those students with services at varying levels of intensity, with low-touch services reaching a wider student population and high-touch services focused on those most in need. Los Angeles Harbor College provided financial training and individualized coaching to two vulnerable student cohorts: veterans and students who had previously been in foster care. The Community College of Baltimore County provided individualized coaching to students receiving emergency scholarships. The Houston Community College System added a financial literacy component to a student success class and offered financial literacy fairs for the entire student body. 

The three grantee colleges pursued different but effective strategies tailored to the needs of their students. Any college looking to build or scale its financial empowerment programs can benefit from the three grantee colleges’ experience and lessons learned. Overall, the FESS initiative found:

  • Financial literacy programs can become established elements of community college services. 
  • Services must be chosen based on student needs and available resources. 
  • Staged development may be appropriate. 
  • Commitment to sustaining services is important. 
  • Collecting data is difficult but critical. 
  • Community partnerships can increase program impact. 

Media Contacts:

Lynn Reddy, Achieving the Dream, (301) 520-9940,

Richard Hart, MDC, (919) 381-5802 ext 344,

Achieving the Dream (ATD) leads a growing network of more than 300 community colleges committed to helping their students, particularly low-income students and students of color, achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth, and economic opportunity. ATD is making progress in closing equity gaps and accelerating student success through a unique change process that builds each college’s institutional capacities in seven essential areas. ATD, along with nearly 75 experienced coaches and advisors, works closely with Network colleges in 45 states and the District of Columbia to reach more than 4 million community college students. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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