R U debt free?


Second-year business student Samad Nasim is one of the instructors for a new course being offered by the university, ‘RU Debt Free.’ (Courtesy RU Debt Free)

Ryerson is offering a series of financial literacy classes to students for what organizers say is the first time.

And it’s free.

“If you don’t have (such) skills when you get to the outside world, if you don’t get it somewhere, you’re going to find yourself in trouble,” said Doug Furchner, collections manager at the university. Furchner is co-ordinating the pilot of the financial literacy course series, entitled RU Debt Free.

RU Debt Free is designed to teach students the basic skills they need to successfully manage their finances. The course is taught over a five-week period, and covers subjects such as banking, budgeting, saving, credit basics and paying for school.

RU Debt Free is based on a similar program that Furchner learned about during an American Universities and Colleges conference. Old Dominion, a university located in Norfolk, Va., launched a financial literacy course in 2010. Today, its seminars draw in 600 students per semester.

Canada is far behind the United States in terms of financial literacy among university students, Furchner said.

The sessions mimic regular university classes — slide show presentations and a course handbook are used to aid learning. But instead of being run by professors, the classes are taught by students.

“Students relate to students,” Furchner said. “They don’t relate to old grey-haired people like me.”

There was an overwhelming number of applications for facilitators, most coming from students enrolled at the Ted Rogers school of management. In addition to being judged for their financial expertise, the applicants are also assessed for how engaging they are. Part of the interview process included applicants giving an on-the-spot, 10-minute talk on any topic.

“Any subject can be taught, but if you can’t deliver it in an entertaining way, then there’s no point,” Furchner said.

The information in the curriculum was compiled from several sources that are available for free online. According to the program, RU Debt Free is the only in-class, structured and free financial literacy course for university students currently being offered in Canada.

Andra Serbaniou, a public health and safety student, admitted that although she pays bills and has a credit card, she knows very little about how to efficiently save and budget. She hadn’t heard of RU Debt Free, but she thinks it’s a valuable resource for students to have access to.

“Knowing how to manage your money is a life skill,” she said.

If the RU Debt Free pilot is successful, it has the potential to get permanent funding to become an annual service provided by the university.

According to Furchner, the pilot course is being funded by Ryerson University Financial Services, with the help of industry partners Gatestone and Co., Credit Risk Management Canada and Credit Bureau of Canada Collections.

Based on the level of interest from both students and administration, Furchner said he is confident the program will be a success.

Course registration is almost full for the upcoming fall term. Students can enrol in RU Debt Free sessions online though the Ryerson website.

Sessions begin Oct. 6.

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