Financial Literacy Spotlight: University of Alaska Anchorage

Financial literacy program spotlight for the University of Alaska Anchorage

A financial literacy program with lots of … carrots.

The $avvy $eawolf financial literacy program was a natural fit for its coordinator, Laura Zamborsky. As a child, she created saving plans for her family so they could go on summer vacations. That early interest in personal finance stuck with her as she grew up and eventually earned her MBA. Now it’s her job, and she loves it.

“I’m very passionate about these topics, and I think that comes through in my interactions with the students and in my workshops,” she said.

Picture of Laura Zamborsky, the head of the financial literacy program at the University of Alaska Anchorage
Laura Zamborsky has run the financial literacy program at the University of Alaska Anchorage since its founding in 2014.

The $avvy $eawolf program at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) teaches personal finance to the school’s students. The program is in its fourth year and is housed within the school’s financial aid office. This is typical—financial literacy programs, if they exist at all at colleges, are often an offshoot of a school’s financial aid office.

At UAA, however, the $avvy $eawolf program enjoys strong institutional support. For this, Zamborsky credits the director of the financial aid office, whom she praises for backing the program’s mission and providing the resources it needs.

Zamborsky heads all aspects of the $avvy $eawolf program and delivers services that include counseling students, organizing events, and leading workshops. A centerpiece of the program is its use of incentives to encourage student participation. Zamborsky runs three workshops throughout the academic year that teach students about budgeting, credit, and loans. Students who attend one of them are entered to win a scholarship worth up to $100. Students who attend all three could receive up to $1000. About 200 students attend the workshops each semester, and about 40 receive scholarships.

“That’s definitely what draws most people into the workshops,” Zamborsky said. “You have to dangle that carrot.”

When asked what makes the $avvy $eawolf program unique, Zamborsky said it’s the creative approach it takes to attract student interest.

“The $avvy $eawolf program is very informal,” she said. ”It’s fun for students and they learn a lot. It’s not just the usual ‘come and sit down and listen to this information.’ It’s interactive.”

A perfect example of this are the events the program hosts for Financial Literacy Month. This year, the $avvy $eawolf program arranged a performance by Colin Ryan, a comedian who specializes in financial humor. The program also offered events that included financial aid jeopardy, a presentation on home ownership, a FAFSA work session, financial literacy workshops, and a scholarship presentation.

Comedian Colin Ryan performs for Financial Literacy Month
Comedian Colin Ryan performs at UAA in celebration of Financial Literacy Month.

Just like with their regular workshops, students who attend these events will be entered to win a scholarship. For Zamborsky, this teaches a lesson in itself—show up for the event and maybe walk away with money for school.

“That’s a smart financial decision right there,” she said.

With financial literacy, Zamborsky admits that the results can be difficult to quantify. However, she sees lots of anecdotal evidence that the $avvy $eawolf program is having an impact. It’s not uncommon for students to mention that they wish they had gone to her earlier, or to refer friends because they had a good experience. Hard data would provide a more concrete picture of the program’s benefits, and the school is in the process of hiring a company to conduct a study to provide just that.

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