'Financial Health Is Foundational to Everything We Do' With HBCUs

Wells Fargo’s support of the Society for Financial Education & Professional Development’s Student Ambassador Program increases career opportunities and financial education for students at historically Black colleges and universities.
Feb 26, 2021 10:10 AM ET
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Brandi McLean believes that people need financial skills to survive. That’s why she’s made it her mission to educate people about it. McLean, an accountant in Virginia, has been teaching young children about financial literacy in her free time. She also participated in the nonprofit Society for Financial Education & Professional Development’s, or SFE&PD, Student Ambassador Program, which trains college students to teach their peers about personal finance. Twelve historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, participate in the program, including Bowie State University, McLean’s alma mater and the first HBCU established in Maryland in 1865.

“If I could describe the program in one word, it would be ‘necessary,’” McLean said. “It is a good program, and it should be implemented in every college because students need the information.

The ambassadors, many of whom have a strong interest in finance like McLean, lead financial workshops on campus and at other community outreach events to help increase financial capability among their peers. Business school professors and SFE&PD representatives mentor ambassadors to create their own lesson plans and interactive activities to engage students in relevant financial health topics, like money and credit management, student loans, budgeting, savings, and financial planning for life after college. In light of the COVID-19 restrictions, the program has been provided virtually, through watch parties and social media, and on-site, when available.

“It’s effective because ambassadors drill down deeper to gain knowledge, and their peers enjoy being taught by them,” said Ted Daniels, founder and president of SFE&PD. “The ambassadors have ideas about how their peers are going to receive the information presented.” For example, McLean and fellow ambassadors at Bowie State decided to perform a skit to teach students about the terms and conditions of a loan. And at North Carolina A&T State University, former ambassadors taught their peers about budgeting by relating it to a spring break trip.

For the past 20 years, SFE&PD has been working to enhance financial and economic literacy in the U.S. among underserved communities. “African Americans were being taken advantage of when it came to financial decisions,” Daniels said. “My strategy was to infuse financial literacy into the education of college students, and they would carry that to family and friends and uplift the African American community.”

Since 2017, Wells Fargo has provided more than $450,000 in grants to support stipends for the ambassadors and oversight for the programs at Bowie State University, Jackson State University, North Carolina Central University, and North Carolina A&T State University and is helping to expand the program to five additional HBCUs this year. Ambassadors also integrate resources and information from Hands on Banking®, Wells Fargo’s free, noncommercial online learning program offering money management lessons and resources in English and Spanish, into their sessions. Wells Fargo team members have also volunteered at sessions held by the ambassadors as well.

“The unfortunate reality is that many college students graduate without the financial skills needed to navigate complex financial decisions and climb the economic ladder, and this issue disproportionally impacts African American, Black, and other college students of color,” said Darlene Goins, head of Financial Health Philanthropy at Wells Farg

‘Students need it to adapt as adults

McLean was recommended to the Student Ambassador Program by a professor who knew she was interested in finance and accounting. “I met Mr. Daniels, and once he gave me an overview, I was more than pleased to be a part of it,” McLean said. “Personal finance is not discussed in everyday school, and students need it to adapt as adults.”

She recalled when a freshman said after a session that they appreciated learning about loans — their parents unfortunately told them to take out the full amount of the loan and figure out paying it off later. “My most memorable sessions were discussing loans because every student, just about, takes out a loan but doesn’t always know what they’re signing up for,” McLean said. As part of her workshops, McLean helped students understand the difference between unsubsidized and subsidized loans — and the importance of creating a repayment plan.

McLean knew she was going to pursue a career in accounting after graduating in 2018, but participating in the Student Ambassador Program reaffirmed her decision. “It gave me more insight on the need for it,” she said. “Financial education should be required for at least high school students because not every student wants to go to college. By starting it early, that’s how it gets passed down generation to generation.”

Support for HBCUs

The Student Ambassador Program is just one of the ways Wells Fargo works closely with HBCUs to help students improve their financial stability and set them up for greater financial success after college. Today, the 101 accredited HBCUs across the U.S. enroll about 300,000 students. According to UNCF (PDF), approximately 80% are African American, and 70% are from low-income families.

“HBCUs are known for helping generations of Black people to achieve academic and professional success,” Goins said. “Through our work with SFE&PD and other HBCU initiatives, we aim to increase access to financial health tools and resources that will set students up for greater success after college, and create pathways to economic mobility and wealth.”

Since 2010, Wells Fargo has invested more than $22.4 million for scholarships, emergency grants, and funding for students at HBCUs to stay in school. It also funds programs like Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s Teacher Quality & Retention Program, which provides training and resources for new and aspiring teachers from HBCUs, and UNCF’s Empower Me Tour, which helps students prepare for college and their careers.

“College is expensive, and we want students to have the least amount of debt and be successful,” said Dewey Norwood, relationship manager for Wells Fargo’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “The programs we provide help them to be better prepared for the real world. We want them to have the resources and position our team members to help, as well. We have subject matter experts and want our volunteers to come in and support these scholars.”

Wells Fargo is also working with the HBCU Community Action Development Coalition on the Our Money Matters program to influence the economic wellbeing of students from participating HBCUs, Minority Serving Institutions, and their communities, with virtual integration, education and counseling, support services, and outreach/collaboration with communities. 

“HBCUs are an important option for young people, and financial health is foundational to everything we do with these organizations,” Goins said.