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More Students to Get Lessons in Financial Literacy Through Expanded Monarch Millionaire Program

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The wildly successful Monarch Millionaire program, a five-week program aimed at teaching Old Dominion University students financial literacy, is being expanded.

The spring semester for the program starts the week of Feb. 4, with students receiving instruction in budgeting, banking, credit, financial aid and life after college.

The program was founded in 2012 through a grant from Higher One, a higher education-focused financial services company. Created by the Monarch Project of ODU's Office of Finance, Monarch Millionaire has many on- and off-campus partners, including Aramark (which provides snacks for all of the sessions), Colley Avenue Printing, ODU's Career Management Center and the Army and Naval ROTC units.

The initiative is aimed at helping address the looming student debt crisis in this country. Nationally, current and former students have accumulated an estimated $1 trillion in debt, with Virginia students averaging more than $23,000 in debt at graduation.

After 100 students signed up for the first sessions in fall 2012, the program has grown to almost 300, and special sessions are offered for students in the Career Management Center's LEAP student employment program (Learn and Earn Advantage Program) and for members of ROTC. In addition, a second-stage program is available for graduates of the Monarch Millionaire program who want to acquire even more financial skills.

"It was almost like a snowball rolling down a hill," said Bill Edmunds, acting administrative operations officer with the ODU Office of Finance. "It's only accelerated as we've gone into the spring."

The program is aimed in part at the university's unique student population, one of the most diverse n the state, and with a larger percentage of first-generation college students. The skills that are taught in the hour-long sessions are designed to help students make the transition from their parents' home to adulthood, learning financial management skills that can serve them their entire lives.

ODU has already done a better job than most four-year schools in the country at keeping students' debt loads manageable, Edmunds said. Now it appears that, helped in part by Monarch Millionaire, a dent is being made in delinquent student payments.

In the fall 2012 semester, the university reported a 30 percent drop in the number of students who saw their unpaid bills for school sent to collections. It amounted to $158,000 less in collection fees for a total of almost 300 students.

The Monarch Millionaire sessions are taught by ODU students, on-campus mentors and professionals in the financial fields. The courses are intended to be fun and interactive, with prizes awarded to attendees. A graduation ceremony is held for students who complete the five-week program.

The Monarch Millionaire team has also added a new initiative this semester called Cash Cram, a spinoff from the program that will be conducted over two hours during sessions held in university residence halls. Those sessions will include a Jeopardy-style financial literacy quiz with prizes.

In the future, the Monarch Project would like to add a Monarch Millionaire program for student-athletes, and to franchise the Monarch Millionaire concept to other schools, since the financial literacy knowledge gap exists across the country.

Edmunds would also like to see the creation of a simulation-style game, a spinoff of The Game of Life, to teach these financial concepts in a fun, interactive fashion.