July 4

Empowering Student Success through Financial Literacy


Could financial literacy be a way to boost student retention, or even be a means of attracting new students to your school?

That’s exactly what the University of Kentucky is doing, and I think you should know about it. 

Kirsten Turner shares how the University of Kentucky is improving student success by teaching financial literacy. In this episode of The Higher Ed Marketer, we delve into an innovative approach to student success with Dr. Kirsten Turner, Vice President of Student Success at the University of Kentucky

Dr. Turner shares how the university’s comprehensive strategies around financial literacy are setting new standards in higher education.

The Strategic Focus on Retention and Graduation Rates

The University of Kentucky (UK) has made remarkable strides in improving student retention and graduation rates. 

Under the leadership of President Eli Capiluto, the university has embraced a strategic focus on student success since 2015. 

Dr. Turner explains that the initiatives are rooted in a conceptual framework addressing four key areas: 

Academic Preparation

[This has to do with] thinking about how much a student is prepared for college and college work. 

[It’s about] thinking about their executive functioning skills [and] time management, [or even practical questions like,] are they able to pass calculus or chemistry or [subjects] like that? 

[We’re trying to think through how to put] our different resources [together] in ways to help our students be academically prepared.

Belonging and Engagement

Do the students feel like this is a place they fit? Do they feel like they have community and friends? Is this a place that they feel comfortable? 

A lot of times students might leave an institution if they don’t feel like it’s a place that they belong.

Mental and Physical Well-Being

Is a student suffering from anxiety? Are they emotionally well? Are they physically well? 

How do we provide the right resources to keep them operating at the highest peak of their physical and mental well-being? 

Understanding the critical role of mental and physical health in student success, UK offers comprehensive services through its counseling and wellness centers. 

These initiatives are particularly significant for Generation Z students, who prioritize mental wellness, especially in the post-pandemic era.

Financial Stability

Do the students have financial concerns or financial woes? Are they working one or two jobs in order to pay for college? Are they concerned about their tuition? All of the different types of issues around financial needs. 

We think about these four areas, and in our conceptual framework, we have them designed as a swirl because we know that these intersect.

Financial stability is a cornerstone of UK’s student success strategy. 

Recognizing that financial concerns can significantly impact a student’s ability to thrive, UK has introduced the UK Invests program. 

This initiative is designed to teach students the value of financial literacy and long-term investment.

Dr. Turner shared with us how UK Invests allows students to open an investment account with Fidelity and earn micro-scholarships by engaging in beneficial activities such as attending financial literacy workshops, participating in wellness programs, and utilizing career services.

Real-World Impact and Results

The results of these initiatives are impressive. 

UK has achieved a 70% six-year graduation rate and an 87% retention rate, maintaining a demographically similar first-year class without increasing selectivity. 

Dr. Turner highlights that these improvements have been achieved while staying true to their mission of serving the students of Kentucky.

Financial Literacy as a Game Changer

The UK Invests program is a standout example of how financial literacy can be integrated into student success strategies. 

By incentivizing healthy financial habits, students learn the importance of saving and investing early. 

Dr. Turner illustrates this with the “Tale of Two Students,” showing how small, consistent investments can grow significantly over time.

One of the first things we share with students when they participate in this is the “Tale of Two Students.” 

We show them that the first student graduates at 22 and [then] they wait ten years before they start to put any money away for long-term financial stability. 

And then at 32, they decide they’re going to start putting $100 away for a month, and they do that for 40 years. So that’s about $48,000 total. 

If you look at the S & P rate of return over the past 40 years, it’s about 11%. So that $48,000 that they put in over the course of 40 years. Starting at 32, it will roughly come out to about $750,000. That’s a nice nest egg.

Then we show them the tale of the second student. The second student puts the money away starting at 22, when they graduate. 

They have $100 that they put away for a month, each month, but they only do it for ten years. So they stop at 32, and they’ve put in $12,000. Then they just let that roll for the next 40 years, same rate of return. [It comes to] roughly about $1.5 million. 

When the students see that, their eyes get real big! Of course, they all want to be student two.

“Time is on your side right now,” says Dr. Turner. “You may not have much money, but starting early with even small investments can lead to substantial financial stability in the future.”

A Culture of Care and Strategic Communication

UK’s success is also attributed to its culture of care and strategic communication. 

Regular meetings and a commitment to data-driven decision-making ensure that the university can quickly adapt to students’ needs. 

The retention meeting, a key driver of success, brings together institutional leaders and frontline staff to discuss real-time data and develop interventions.

Every Friday we meet for an hour and a half from 10:00 to 11:30. It started with about ten people that would show up. We now have over 80 people on campus that come. 

We have a companion online course that we’ve created through our learning management system that we post to all the different proceedings from that meeting. 

We have over 300 subscribers, that of faculty and staff across campus who can tune in through that online version of it.

We start that meeting with the data of what’s going on this week with students. 

In real time, we come up with different interventions and discuss what the data is saying and what people are seeing play out with our students on campus. 

The reason why I think it’s important is that it is open to anyone on our campus. 

What you get is this really interesting mix of institutional leaders, along with frontline student support personnel, who are all there to roll up their sleeves, dive into the data, and really start to think about what is happening to our students in real time, 

[With this kind of real-time collaboration, we are] able to do some real-time interventions that other than staff time, don’t cost any more additional resources.

Student Success and Financial Literacy

The University of Kentucky’s approach to student success through financial literacy is not only innovative but also scalable. 

Institutions of all sizes can draw inspiration from UK’s initiatives to enhance their own student success strategies.

That’s why I encourage you to listen to our full interview with Dr. Kirsten Turner to get even more insights into:

  • The four pillars of meaning and purpose
  • The UK student investment program
  • Why financial literacy is important for college students
  • How UK’s initiatives have positively impacted students

Caylor Solutions Custom Solutions

Also, as a school, you might need a retention meeting like the one Kirsten described to help you think through some interventions for the problems you’re facing. 

It can be difficult to identify the problems that are robbing you of enrollment success. Sometimes it’s even harder to know what to do when you know what’s going wrong!

Contact us today to see how our custom solutions can help you find data-based solutions to the marketing and enrollment-related problems that might be affecting your results in real-time. 

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Featured image via uky.edu

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