Merrimack College students completing their internships at the Financial Capability Center have been assisting members of the community throughout the year with money management, from paying off debt to saving for an emergency fund.
Founded in 2015 by Ana Silva, associate professor of finance and chair of Department of Accounting and Finance at the Girard School of Business, the Financial Capability Center teaches financial coaching skills to students across all majors. At the same time, the center strives to provide financial stability to vulnerable populations in Greater Lawrence and to promote healthy financial behavior on campus and in the greater community.
Beginning its seventh semester, the center to-date has offered financial coaching training to 105 students, coaching to 274 low-income residents, and has assisted more than 100 households with tax preparation. Clients have included ACT Lawrence, Lawrence High School, and Hands to Help.
The center is in the process of conducting a randomized control experiment to look at client outcomes before and after financial coaching, thanks to a $31,000 Provost Innovation Fund Grant awarded in spring 2018. The grant has already supported client recruitment, student coach training, and education workshops for its first cohort of students and clients.
In January 2019, a new cohort began and a final report, documenting outcomes as a result of the coaching and educational activities, will be issued in June 2019.
“Once we complete this study, we will be able to show the impact of our financial coaching program using a research approach that is considered to be the ‘gold standard’ of impact evaluations,” said Silva, who directs the center. “It’s good for us and for the nonprofits that work with us to be able to have this evidence to apply for grants.”
Silva added that students also greatly benefit by engaging in this research, as well as working directly with community members.
Katelynn Marr, a senior business major concentrating in marketing and management, said she developed interpersonal and cultural competencies as result of her experience with her client whom she identified only as “Jose” to protect his privacy.
“I was aware of other cultures before the program, but I never took into account or considered that someone like Jose could be struggling to make ends meet here because he had to send so much money home to his parents,” Marr said. “I came into the program thinking clients would have bad spending habits; I did not consider that they have important fixed costs that were not being fairly considered.”