State treasurer visits Rowan-Cabarrus

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 22, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
State Treasurer Janet Cowell knows what it’s like to be in debt.
When she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, it took her three years to pay off student loans. She was debt-free for about three months before taking on more loans to earn her graduate degree. It took another decade to pay down that debt.
“I know what it means to pay that back; it’s not an easy thing,” Cowell said.
Cowell said during that time, she was thrifty with her money, moving into a small house, which she still lives in today, and driving an inexpensive car. And it’s that frugality that allowed her to have enough money left over for groceries and other expenses.
Now, Cowell is trying to help college students across the state tackle debt.
She kicked off her community college tour Monday with a visit to Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, where she solicited feedback from students and promoted a new online financial literacy tool.
The treasurer’s office teamed up with the State Education Assistance Authority and the College Foundation of North Carolina to launch the “Advanced Money Management for Community College Students” tool in August.
The website provides students with information about budgeting, financial health, building credit and more.
“Some students have no choice but to borrow if they want a higher education,” Cowell said. “This is especially true today with cuts to state and federal grant programs, rising tuition rates, and increased enrollment at community colleges.
“I am committed to helping community college students manage their education expenses so they are not saddled with debt for years down the road.”
Cowell said one of the key factors that prompted the creation of the tool was a statistic from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
“This year, student debt bypassed credit cards,” she said. “And student debt is much harder to restructure.”
Students at the college talked to Cowell Monday about their experiences with debt.
Kenna Rankin said he received a Pell grant to study business, but ended up having to take out a loan as well because he hasn’t been able to secure a job. He said he’s looking forward to trying out the money management tool.
“When I woke up this morning, I had no clue about this, so it’s actually been a good experience for me because it really opened my eyes about the future,” he said. “Nobody wants to be paying off debt all their lives.”
Student James Hall Jr. said he’ll be sharing the tool with his younger brother, Justin.
“This is something he can use,” he said. “I think budgeting your money is very important.”
First-year student Evan Smith said although he hasn’t incurred any student debt, he’s still planning to use the money management tool.
“It’s a real treat to be able to find a way to help me with my finances because I’m not good at that stuff at all,” he said. “Anything to help out would be great.”
Cowell said the tool will help students decide how much student debt they can take on and what they can do to pay it back. And, she said, students who need more individualized help can be paired with counselors.
About 15 of the state’s community colleges are actively using the online tool, which is available on the College Foundation of North Carolina’s website,, under the “financial literacy” tab on the left side of the page.
Rowan-Cabarrus President Carol Spalding said the college hasn’t utilized the tool to the fullest extent, but plans to do so next semester.
“We certainly want to have this financial literacy available to our students,” she said. “We know that loans are a serious endeavor … we want to do the best we can to show our students how to manage debt.”
Cowell will continue her tour by heading to the eastern part of the state at the start of next week.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.