In the three years that Beth Tallman has been teaching a course on the fundamentals of personal finance, she’s earned a reputation as a financial life coach, dispensing crucial information that will help shape Oberlin students’ fiscal futures.
Topics in the six-week course remain the same from one module to the next, although class discussions take twists and turns based on students’ concerns. “The financial world is changing under our feet every day,” Tallman says.
There are the usual suspects: student loan repayment, credit card debt, savings and investments, retirement planning. Tallman also covers accounting skills, interest compounding, discount tools to analyze investments, Microsoft Excel, selecting a bank, safe and smart use of credit/debit cards, credit scores, identity theft, diversification of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, insurance, and tax strategies.
Yet, even when armed with all this knowledge, certain factors can affect a student’s financial well being. For instance, how do spending attitudes and financial stress shape a student’s success in college and after graduation? Tallman is part of a research team conducting a national study that will try to answer that question and gain a more thorough and accurate picture of the financial wellness of undergraduates.
In recent years, Tallman, who has a background in corporate finance and teaching high school math, has made connections with researchers involved with the National Student Financial Wellness Study, administered by Ohio State University’s Center for the Study of Student Life. In 2010, the center conducted a financial wellness survey of more than 5,700 undergraduates in Ohio colleges and universities. This year, the survey will reach 100 institutions across the country, and Oberlin College is a co-investigator in the project.
A random sample of 500 Oberlin students will receive an e-mail with the online questionnaire in November. The survey will ask about their financial support, personal finance management, academic plans, cost of college, and finance-related stress. The data collected will inform institutions on how to improve services that can help students with money management and academic success. It will also enable Tallman and other personal finance instructors to tailor their course content to what students themselves say they need. For that reason, she hopes Oberlin students will participate.
Tallman plans to procure online content that students and alumni can access for meaningful financial information and advice. She has written a draft of a textbook for her class, listed in the course catalog as Entrepreneurship 110: Fundamentals of Finance. “The information and feedback we get from this survey is critical because it will shape the online content we offer, as well as what I offer in class,” she says. “We’ll also see how Oberlin compares to other comparable institutions.” Tallman hopes to create a task force including students and representatives from several offices across campus to help choose and design the online content with modules targeted at students and alumni at various stages in their financial lives.
Kahyan Lee took Tallman’s course in fall 2014. A violin performance major from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, she was interested in learning how to manage student debt. She came away with a greater knowledge of investments and the importance of saving for retirement beginning in her 20s. “All Oberlin students will benefit from this class because [Tallman] uses real-life scenarios, and the topics will help students such as myself for the rest of their lives.”
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