Many low-income and first-generation community college students face disproportionate challenges in their quest for a college education. They typically balance multiple outside obligations, while being solely responsible for making these decisions without adequate knowledge, guidance, or support (Lyons, 2004). Many students begin college without ever having been responsible for their personal finances (Kezar, 2010) and some find themselves making financial decisions for the first time. A lack of experience makes them particularly vulnerable to making poor financial decisions that may negatively impact their future financial well-being.
This qualitative study explored the influence of participation in financial education on the perceived future financial behaviors of TRIO SSS community college students. The study specifically sought to understand the participants' perception of (a) how experience informs money-management practices and financial behaviors specific to paying for college for low-income and first-generation community college students, (b) the extent to which financial education creates discourse and critical self-assessment/reflection for low-income and first-generation community college students, specific to managing personal finances and paying for college, and (c) after participation in financial education, what student's perceived future financial behaviors are, specific to managing personal finances and paying for college. Guided by transformative learning theory and the body of research on financial education, this qualitative investigation took place at a large metropolitan community college in the Northwest.
Transcript data from semi structured interviews and associated documents served as the primary sources of evidence for this study. All data were interpreted through a process of thematic qualitative analysis. This systematic, iterative, and active analysis process resulted in a thematic framework from which three major themes emerged. The themes included (a) experience is influential; (b) financial education is a significant catalyst; and (c) financial education leads to varied intentions and complex perspectives.
The major findings of this study were evaluated within the guiding theoretical framework of the body of literature on the topic, which led to the following key insights: (a) financial education should relate to participants' experience; (b) financial education can be a catalyst for change; and (c) there are challenges in determining the influence of financial education on future behaviors. These study findings have implications for policymakers, administrators, educators, and key stakeholders interested in developing or evaluating financial education targeted at-risk student populations. This study infers that participation in financial education by at-risk students leads to varied intentions and complex behaviors. If educators, administrators, and policymakers intend to develop or to evaluate financial education to influence behavior change for low-income and first-generation community college students, additional research that utilizes adult learning theory and recognizes and addresses adults' unique characteristics and financial challenges is needed.
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