Defining Financial Capability for College Students

Financing a college education is one of the first and most important financial decisions young adults will make.

When added to the pressure of learning to manage and navigate everyday financial decisions, many students are stressed about their finances and are not prepared to manage money while in college.

Percentage of high school graduates who enroll in college
Percentage of college students who drop out after the first year

Over the last several years, great strides have been made at the national level aimed at finding better ways to provide young adults with the knowledge and skill set necessary to make smart financial decisions that will help them persist in college and complete their degree. However, facilitating impactful implementation and testing of these standards (specifically for college-bound and college student populations) requires a more functional definition of what finan­cial capability means for these students. It is in this spirit that this coalition of financial literacy practitioners and non-profit education technology and financial services organizations, has come together to offer its perspective on what that definition might include.

The purpose of this effort is to inform the development and evaluation of more effective education, intervention and practice opportunities aimed at increasing financial capability among college students. It is intended to provide focus for key stakeholders who work directly with or on behalf of students, including financial literacy practitioners, high school and college counselors, financial aid professionals, and researchers—as well as companies and organizations involved in creating better tools and resources for young adults.

This graph provides a timeline summary of the definition as it relates to the requisite knowledge and attitudes that college and college-bound students should acquire, along with suggested outcomes or milestones that would demonstrate achievement of those desired traits.

Click to enlarge the graph


Assistant Director, Student Wellness Center, The Ohio State University

Assistant Professor Research Fellow, NAF Faculty Director of the Financial Inclusion Project, AEDI School of Social Welfare, University of Kansas

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Moneythink

Vice President, Financial Literacy and Student Aid Policy, BankMobile.

Director of Financial Literacy, University of Indiana

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Mindblown Labs

Director of Research, EverFi


We Offer Students:

News and Advice

Our $tart with Change blog, offering valuable feature articles, news and advice from Mary Johnson, Higher One’s Financial Literacy Expert.

Engaging Contests

Our Money on My Mind video contest (see the 2014 winners), which gives students the opportunity to create an original video about their experiences with and advice about money management, for the chance to win cash prizes.

Useful Tools

Useful calculators for student loan payments, savings and other key money management tasks.

Timely Content

Our monthly $tart with Change email newsletter, which gives students the latest news from the blog, plus interesting facts about money management and poll results from the website.

We Offer Administrators:

Valuable Insight

We provide a wealth of research and information about how college students manage their money and the challenges they face. Our Money Matters on Campus report, conducted by Higher One and EverFi, outlines trends in how college students behave and plan for the future.

Publications and Presentations

Downloadable publications and presentations, including Talking to Your Students About Money and What Colleges and Universities are Doing to Bridge the Financial Capability Gap and whitepapers including Forging a Path to Financial Capability.

Financial Resources

Our Financial Literacy Counts grant program, which awards a total of $75,000 to colleges and universities to fund financial literacy awareness campaigns, workshops, online financial literacy tools and other activities and resources that promote financial capability among college students and provide opportunities to increase students’ personal financial management skills and abilities.

Helpful Toolkits

Our all-in-one toolkits for on-campus financial literacy workshops, including Money Smarts, Credit Smarts and Budget 101, will empower you to help your students improve their money management skills.

Find out how $tart with Change can impact students
on your campus.