New Program for College Students of Color: Our Money Matters

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It's difficult to build generational wealth without basic financial knowledge.

The Historically Black Colleges & Universities Community Development Action Coalition (HBCU CDAC) has announced the launch of a comprehensive financial wellness initiative called Our Money Matters (OMM). This program -- designed for students of color -- represents a $5.6 million initiative to help students facing real-world problems like school debt and food or housing insecurities find solutions and take control of their future finances. Funded exclusively by the Wells Fargo Foundation, OMM is targeted at students from historically Black colleges and the surrounding communities.

Why this program was created

Black families have been in the U.S. for 400 years, yet they hold a fraction of the wealth of white families. The Institute of Policy Studies reports that 37% of Black families have zero or negative wealth. That means their families carry debt equal to or greater than their assets. Less than half that number (15.5%) of white families find themselves in the same situation.

The problem is more extensive than having too little in the bank. A family treading water, barely getting by, has fewer opportunities to save, invest, buy a home, and create generational wealth. Not only are they unable to pass money down to their heirs like many white families, but they have less opportunity to teach their children how to create wealth.

Systemic racism is at the heart of the problem. According to the United Negro College Fund, non-Black teachers have lower expectations of Black students. And Black children are more likely than their white counterparts to attend schools with less qualified and lower-paid teachers. These kids are also less likely to have access to the courses they need to prepare them for a university education. And that brings us to those students who have made it to college -- the first groups introduced to OMM.

Ron Butler is CEO of HBCU CDAC. According to Butler, the program will reach students, facilities, and people in the surrounding communities -- "anyone willing to walk through the whole process with us," as Butler puts it.

Slated to begin with the fall semester, the program will hit the ground running at seven HBCUs. Eventually, it will expand to 25 HBCUs and minority-serving institutions across the U.S. The program expects to equip roughly 40,000 students of color (and the extended community) with financial skills that will allow them to master their finances and create generational wealth.

HBCU CDAC's mission

This group may have one of the longest acronyms around. Still, their mission is simple: to support underserved communities and work together to enhance the quality of life on and off campus, Butler explains. "Our ultimate goal is to help close the wealth gap," the CEO says.

How the program got its start

Temple Jackson, project manager for HBCU CDAC, says it all started in 2010. Since that time, HBCU CDAC has collected a vast catalog of resources and courses that participants can access 24 hours a day. Ultimately focused on wealth building in these underserved communities, participants will learn how to do things like:

  • Handle checking and savings accounts with ease
  • Stick to a budget
  • Fill out complicated financial aid forms
  • Move toward homeownership
  • Invest and plan for retirement

But it's more than teaching financial skills. OMM is about building community and pulling people together from all walks of life to lift each other up and support each other's goals. HBCU CDAC knows that if it can harness enthusiasm, it can make the program meaningful and fun at the same time.

Jackson says that once OMM finds its footing, "We should see a reflection of that in Black and brown communities in 10 years."

Why Wells Fargo got involved

"We have a long relationship with the HBCU, Thurgood Marshall, and United College Fund," says Darlene Goins, senior vice president, head of Financial Health Philanthropy at Wells Fargo. "As a financial institution, we have a responsibility to take a larger leadership role."

Goins sees nothing but an upside to providing people of color with deeply rooted financial knowledge. Asked if she believes it's possible to turn the current economic situation around for Black and brown Americans, Goins says, "I think we have to. Everyone in our society benefits when all people have access and opportunity to participate fully in the economy."

Goins believes it's vital everyone get on board with programs like these. "We can't solve all the problems, and we can't do it alone," she says. "We need collaboration between the private and public sector, as well as the government."

The excitement begins

"Our plan is to do a college tour where we're going to stop by every city, and we're going to do almost like a block party for the school," Jackson explains.

She added that HBCU CDAC will be looking for champions in the communities and on campus to help the program fly. The first schools to experience the complete OMM programs are:

  • Allen University, Columbia, South Carolina
  • Lincoln University, near Oxford, Pennsylvania
  • Bowie State University, Prince George's County, Maryland
  • Miles College, Fairfield, Alabama
  • University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Southern University at New Orleans
  • Morris Brown College, Atlanta, Georgia

Goins sums it up by saying it's all about "raising your hand and reaching out."

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