An Advisory Council For College Students, By College Students

At Harvard University Employees Credit Union, a council of five students helps the cooperative manage messages to undergrads.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Harvard University Employees Credit Union created a Student Advisory Council to remain relevant with students.
  • The credit union leans on the five-person council for insight on financial education, event planning, banking services, and more.

CU QUICK FACTS

HUECU
Data as of 03.31.19

HQ: Cambridge, MA
ASSETS: $780.9M
MEMBERS: 50,097
BRANCHES: 6
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 7.7%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 22.7%
ROA: 0.96%

To serve the needs and wants of young members, credit unions — especially college- and university-affiliated ones — must constantly re-evaluate these members’ financial knowledge, awareness, and preferences. For Harvard University Employees Credit Union ($780.9M, Cambridge, MA), it goes directly to the source for this information.

The credit union serves the students, alumni, and faculty of Harvard University. For the past nine months, it has consulted with its newly formed Student Advisory Council on matters of financial education programming, university engagement events, student banking services, and more. The insight of the council helps the credit union remain relevant in the eyes of Harvardians.

Here, Migdalia Gomez, community engagement manager at HUECU, discusses what prompted the credit union to create the council, how the council operates, and what improvements the council has helped the credit union implement.

When did HUECU establish the Student Advisory Council?

MG: We had our first conversation about how to form the council in March 2018. We recruited students throughout the summer and officially launched in September when students returned to campus.

Between March and September, we met with council participants and asked for feedback on how to articulate the benefits of the council. After we launched, we asked participants what we could do for them and what would benefit them. 

All of the responses were different. Some were looking for opportunities to network. Others were interested in attending professional events. Others just wanted a professional headshot . It was important to ask what we could do for them on a personal level to help them get the most from this experience.

3 Questions To Ask Students

To select participants for its Student Advisory Council, Harvard University Employees Credit Union asks students to complete an online application that asks three questions:

  • What about your identity and personal experience would help them contribute to the Council?
  • Why do you want to be on the Council?
  • How would you improve our website or social media pages?

For the last question, the credit union wants to see how applicants prefer to share feedback and if they can say “no” to an idea they don’t like because the success of the council is dependent on their honesty.

Why does HUECU need this council? What’s the end goal?

MG: One of the main reasons we wanted to start the Student Advisory Council was to connect with our student population, especially our undergraduates. It has been some years since some of us were undergrads. We wanted to speak with students and consult with them on different products and services, especially when it comes to personal finance. What is the best way to get information to them? What can we do better?

How did HUECU choose the five students on its inaugural council?

MG: We have an online application. It asks for basic information and requires them to answer three questions.

We have a diverse community, and we wanted a group that’s representative of that — students with different academic concentrations and an interest in economic diversity. They don’t need to be an economic major, but we do need participants who have a passion for personal finance and making their peers aware of the different opportunities that come with it.

Harvard University Employees Credit Union’s Student Advisory Council is composed of five students who range from freshmen to seniors: Chi Chi Nwodoh, James Bedford, Jessica Li, Ryan Leung, and Valentina Gutiérrez.

How does the council operate? 

MG: We have traditional meetings, although they’re infrequent, and we’ll have two in-person planning sessions per semester. In those meetings, we’ll set goals for the coming semester based on what the credit union is trying to accomplish.

Separate from those formal meetings, we have an email and text group with everyone on it. If we’re thinking about something as simple as what materials we should use as giveaways, we’ll send a message and have them weigh in. If we’re launching or expanding a program and are choosing among several names, we’ll give them a list and they’ll help us choose. 

We also ask them to tell us about different student programs or clubs on campus we should consider partnering with. It’s really working with them and having them act as our eyes and ears on campus. Because of where we are, we don’t have access to student needs — they do.  

Do council members have term limits?

MG: We base things on the academic year. Current council members will have the opportunity to remain on the council, but we’ll recruit additional students as we have seniors who will be graduating this spring.

On what topics do you most often consult with council members?

MG: Most often we’re evaluating opportunities for partnerships. We’re trying to identify what we could be doing more of and what we could be doing better. Who do we need to connect with to bring personal financial education to students? 

The council members know the student population. They come from different backgrounds with different interests and run in different circles, so they’re able to connect us with an array of groups. They know what emails students will open, what catches their attention, and the best time of year for certain outreach.

What’s a recent project the council has worked on?

MG: It helped us rebrand our winter session  program. Students can come back during the last week of winter recess before classes begin to take enrichment programming for which they don’t receive academic credit. For the past 10 years, we’ve offered a personal finance class called Personal Finance Management. The council members told us not to call it that because it’s not fun. So now we call it, “From Parents to Penthouse: Why Managing Your Finances Matters.” The council also helped us with the content, how we lay out information, and design ideas for the marketing flyer.

Council members are also helping us recruit next year by making our application more tangible for future applicants.

Competing against classes such as skiing and scuba diving, HUECU asked its council members to reimagine the personal finance class in a way that was more tangible — and more fun. Click the image to download the full marketing flyer.

With one year in, how has the program worked out?

MG: Going into the year, we weren’t sure what to expect. We knew what our idea was but not what the final product would be. We’re proud of what it has become. Our students have been amazing and have helped us get to know certain things that have opened our eyes. From that perspective, it’s been a success.

What are lessons learned? What changes might you implement in future iterations?

MG: We tweaked, and will continue to tweak, how often we hold in-person meetings. Because they all have different schedules, it can be hard to get all our students in at the same time. But that’s why our texts and emails have been helpful.

One important consideration is to not just think about what the credit union gets from this. We really want it to be beneficial for the students. For anyone thinking of creating a student advisory council, it has to be at two-way conversation. Make sure you help them succeed, however they define it.

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May 27, 2019


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