Updated December 3rd at 12:56 a.m.
Last month, Columbia launched the University-wide platform iGrad, a web-based financial literacy tool that aims to help college students better manage their money. The free program, which is available to students for life, offers articles and online courses on topics such as spending less, managing debt, and repaying student loans.
iGrad was created in 2009 and is currently used by 1.2 million students in 500 schools and organizations. Columbia is the third Ivy League institution to adopt the platform, following Harvard University and Yale University.
The initiative was launched by the Office of University Life and the Student Financial Services office in response to the 2018 Columbia Student Well-Being Survey conducted by the OUL, which revealed that financial resources were a significant concern for some students. The survey asked the question, “Since you have been at Columbia, how often have you had trouble paying for basic necessities like food, clothing, housing/rent or transportation?” to which 29 percent of students responded with either “often/all the time” or “sometimes.” More than 8,300 students from 16 of the 18 schools at Columbia, excluding Barnard and Teachers College, participated in the survey, representing 28 percent of the total student body.
Joseph Greenwell, the inaugural vice president of student affairs, said he hopes that the platform will help students of all backgrounds improve their financial literacy and make well-informed financial decisions.
“We have such a diversity of student community here and lived experiences, from whether or not you’re a student parent, whether or not you’re coming back to college or starting college later in life, you’re student out of high school, different socio-economic backgrounds of our students,” he said. “The app really supports you where you are.”
The initiative comes in light of various financial woes that Columbia students have faced in recent years. Data shows that since 2008, Columbia’s net-price of attendance—after grants and scholarships are subtracted—is decreasing for middle and higher-income students but increasing for low-income students.
In addition to the rising costs of tuition, students have to account for many expenses—including books, supplies, meals, and childcare—that may not be included in their financial aid packages, even for the schools that meet 100 percent of demonstrated need: Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. While students at the School of General Studies frequently rely on federal loans, Columbia College and SEAS financial aid officers have suggested students take out loans to pay for fees, such as the student contribution, despite the schools’ “no loans” policy.
Greenwell hopes that the platform will not only teach students how to handle debt and other expenses but also help keep them on track toward their long-term financial goals. iGrad provides financial education on navigating life after college, including materials on retirement, investment, and real estate.
The University plans to gather feedback from users about their experiences in order to make sure the platform is meeting students’ needs and to explore opportunities for continual development of the platform. The Office of University Life is focused on communicating the launch of this program to reach as many students as possible.
“We’re really wanting to get the word out to all Columbia students that this is a resource for them,” Greenwell said.