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Published: Friday, 11/16/2007

BGSU program helps students find way to firm financial footing

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Sometimes it's as simple as pointing out the budget-busting potential of bar cover charges, especially for customers who visit their favorite watering holes four or five times a week.

When volunteer Melinda Grooms meets with classmates as part of the new student money-management services program at Bowling Green State University, she encourages them to establish how much money is coming in, how much is going out, and where cuts can be made.

BGSU is among a growing number of colleges nationwide that have decided to do something about America's other credit crisis: the one affecting college students leaving school with tens of thousands in student loans, maxed-out credit cards, and no concrete strategy for repaying the debt.

"My generation is a product of the credit generation that charges and charges and charges," said program volunteer Paul Bolin, a finance major.

Led by retired BGSU administrator Duane Whitmire, the new program aims to sharpen participants' money management skills and discourage unnecessary debt. It will do that through one-on-one sessions and seminars.

The need for the services is great, said Mr. Whitmire. The average graduate leaves with $21,000 in student loans.

He estimated that students borrow a combined $129 million a year to attend BGSU.

Many students owe thousands more in credit card debt ($2,500 on average nationally, according to a 2006 survey). Recruiting credit-card customers is barred at the school, but that doesn't stop off-campus drives that give T-shirts, pizzas, and other prizes to students who fill out applications.

And many graduates are leaving school with degrees in art, music, education, and other fields that, although offering opportunities for a rewarding life, don't typically carry high salaries.

The program can be contacted at 419-372-2252 or through an e-mail address smms@bgsu.edu.

Mr. Bolin said his work with the program has toughened his resolve to keep debt to a minimum. He regularly deposits money into savings, uses credit only in emergencies, and repays balances each month.

Because students aren't licensed as financial advisers, they try to stick with financial education while staying away from overly specific advice.

The nonprofit National Endowment for Financial Education is aware of only a handful of schools offering programs like BGSU's.

The endowment launched a Web site three months ago to help colleges offer such services. BGSU was among the first seven schools to sign on, although more are joining. The site offers information on subjects such as the costs of moving off campus, whether to own or lease a car, and the perils of online gambling that ensnares many college students.

"This is an important audience," said Paul Golden, a spokesman for the organization. "Because of student loan debt, they're pretty disadvantaged when they get into the real world."

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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