Creating a Financial Literacy Center at a Community College

by Richard Hayes - Director of Financial Aid at Olive-Harvey College / May 13, 2020

For the college student, the endless rat race for the almighty dollar hasn’t changed; the baton has been passed down for generations. While the tools to make money have modernized due to the boom of social media and technology, the methods on how to keep and manage it remain elusive.

I am a first-generation college student who grew up in a low-income household with parents who never graduated high school. I knew nothing about the intricacies of money or education. In fact, the conversation about money was always about how much we lacked—we often had to make the choice between food or keeping the utilities on.

I went to school because I was told that getting an education was important. And I’m glad I enjoyed school; otherwise, I would have dropped out before I realized the vast opportunities awaiting me. For generations, the main reason to go to college was to attain a fulfilling career that paid a lot of money, at least that’s what my parents told me. While in college, I realized early on that some career choices were less lucrative than others. As a result, I was trying to balance expected future paychecks with expected future happiness. 

Over half of young adults who went to college in 2018 took on debt.


As students continue to utilize federal and private loans to finance their education, according to the Federal Reserve, “over half of young adults who went to college in 2018 took on debt.” With $1.2 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S., “about 69% of students from the class of 2018 took out student loans, graduating with an average debt balance of $29,800,” according to Student Loan Hero. 

As the director of financial aid at Olive-Harvey College and a part-time business professor, I made it my priority to create programs that highlight financial literacy practices. Across the country, colleges and universities have created student money management centers to educate students on how to manage their finances before leaving school. As these centers are becoming the norm among four-year schools, the community college has not embraced the trend.

Simultaneously, at a time in which enrollment is at all-time lows across the nation, community colleges are creating opportunities to reduce the financial liability of low-income commuter students. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, total postsecondary enrollment in the spring of 2019 decreased 1.7% (approximately 300,000 students) from the previous spring, marking the eighth straight year that enrollment has declined. 

Seeing and analyzing the needs of our students, we faced the challenge head on and created a program that offers an opportunity to provide financial literacy for students, giving them a pathway from poverty to financial security. Olive-Harvey College, one of the seven City Colleges of Chicago, will open its first Money Management facility in the spring of 2020, improving the financial well-being of our students by providing the unbiased education, counseling, tools, and solutions students need to achieve financial independence. The unique aspect of the center, however, is that it will be run by students for students. They will undergo personal finance certification training to learn the needed skills to serve their peers.

Keeping and managing money to build generational wealth is what truly makes the difference.

Making money will continue to be one of the yardsticks by which students measure success, but that feat isn’t enough, especially when 62% of college graduates leave school with debt, according to a report from (Renzulli, 2018). Keeping and managing money to build generational wealth is what truly makes the difference, and access to tools that convey this lesson are within reach for students who may lack them. It is up to us as higher education administrators to deliver these services.

Richard Hayes is an Engaging Excellence in Equity Fellow who has participated in convenings designed to identify culturally responsive practices and further support-building evidence and capacity for this work. Learn more about this project.



Carnevale, A., Smith, N., Melton, M., & Price, E. (2015). Learning while earning: The new normal. Georgetown University Center of Education and The Workforce.

Nietzel, M. T. (2019, May 30). College enrollment, spring 2019: The downward slide continues.

Renzulli, K. (2018, April 13). This is how much debt the average American has now—at every age.