Forum: Teaching students financial literacy

Claire Smith

Editor’s Note: Some parts of the following interview with Trina Manor, associate director of the Office of Financial Aid, were omitted for brevity and clarity.

Daily Texan: What are your responsibilities in your position?

Trina Manor: I am responsible for the management of the office, the employees, and making sure that the program administration is going well and that the processing of financial aid files is being done correctly.

DT: Could you describe generally what the Office of Financial Aid does, the general activities of your office and what members of your office work on?

TM: Of course, we handle the processing of the free application for federal student aid, or the FAFSA for short. … The Department of Education needs for us to review certain information, whether it’s tax transcripts, or whether it’s citizenship documents, or verifying selective service registration. We go through that whole process of auditing the FAFSA form or that FAFSA information, and then we award students financial aid based on their eligibility. … Other things that we do are handling the scholarship and awarding of scholarships through the University. … We also partake in a handful of outreach activities for our current students to make sure that they understand budgeting issues [and] financial literacy.

DT: What is some practical advice for students who are trying to limit their debt?

TM: I think the biggest thing is understanding your costs and always having a good budget. You can apply for financial aid, and loans are not necessarily a bad thing, but … the over-borrowing of loans, of course, can lead to too much debt. So whenever we counsel students, we sit down with them and talk to them about what their actual costs are.

DT: Do you think the current system of federal financial aid is easily navigable for students?

TM: It’s overwhelming. … It’s a long, lengthy form that they’re needing to complete. … It’s just a long process and it can be overwhelming. … At least the online version will navigate you to the questions that you need to answer. and it may not feel as overwhelming as if you had a paper application in front of you.

DT: Should students avoid private loans? Are those tougher to pay back?

TM: [Private loans] can be very easy to get but difficult to pay back. Remember that private loans are set up by a private company and that that private company can set up any terms that they want to set up for that loan. So with the private loans, there may not be safeguards in there that federal loans may have. …  But with federal loans, there are more repayment plans that are based on your status.

DT: What resources does the University have to help students limit debt?

TM: Really, it’s pointing students to information — we’ve got a program called Bevonomics as far as financial literacy — getting students to understand what are your direct costs, how to keep a budget, pointing them towards other resources out there that the Department of Education has, as far as maintaining debt and borrowing wisely.

DT: How does your office work with the OAs to create the Bevonomics course?

TM: So, previously, we had done more of an in-front-of-the-audience type presentation. The video module that we did this past year was more effective. … All the information is good, but it may not resonate with that particular audience at that moment. The video was more effective to communicate with students in orientation. You have to think about who your audience is — will they absorb all that information? Students may not be thinking about repaying a loan before they’ve even borrowed a loan. … So the video was a more effective way of giving them information.