06/18/2013 01:03 pm ET Updated Aug 18, 2013

New Texas Collegiate Financial Literacy Association Helps Students Navigate Financial Aid, Manage Debt

There's a new star in the Texas higher education community, and it's gearing up for a stellar performance.

The Texas Association for Collegiate Financial Education Professionals (TACFEP), the first organization of its kind in the nation, recently held its inaugural symposium at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. The meeting brought together more than 60 financial educators, professionals, and students from across the state to share their knowledge and strategies, all with the ultimate goal of increasing college students' financial literacy and wellness.
During the two-day event, experts in a wide range of related fields discussed current issues and trends facing financial education professionals and students. Topics included using online education and tools, creating effective workshops and signature events on campus, training of peer mentors and counselors, changing financial aid policy and implications for students, and addressing the needs of emerging student populations.

While some have debated the efficacy of financial education efforts, these on-ground college professionals who work with students one-on-one on a daily basis know it's important and can make a difference. Students are eager to learn more about how to manage their money, reduce their student loan debt, and plan for their future. All they require are more opportunities and a little guidance.

As event organizer Dr. Kristy Vienne emphasized, "We (TACFEP) professionals love working with students and we want to develop programs that they will enjoy, while at the same time learn the important information that they need to know now and in their future endeavors."

One of the challenges raised during the discussions was how to develop engagement strategies and learning environments that will catch students' attention and keep them coming back for more. A key ingredient in creating successful programs is to include students at every stage of development - from ideation to execution. At the University of North Dakota Financial Wellness Center, for example, students helped design eye-catching creative images for its outreach posters, brochures and websites. Others spoke of innovative uses of social media and incentives such as chances to win book scholarships for completion of programs or course modules.

The creation of TACFEP is a great boost for the Texas higher education community, providing a network of dedicated professionals that can support and enhance efforts to keep students in college and on track to completing their degrees. Hopefully, other states will soon follow suit.