National Summit on Collegiate Financial Wellness

Alumni Hall
Indiana Memorial Union
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana
June 29, 2015


Thank you, Phil [Schuman].

It is a great pleasure to welcome so many higher education professionals who are committed to student financial wellness to Indiana University.

We are delighted to host this national summit along with our colleagues from the Ohio State University, and we hope that your time here in Bloomington is enjoyable and productive.

Addressing Student Debt

In the summer of 1961, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy signed a proclamation designating a week in early November as “American Education Week.” In that proclamation, President Kennedy wrote: “Let us not think of education only in terms of its costs, but rather in terms of the infinite potential of the human mind that can be realized through education. Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.”1

More than half a century later, education—and particularly higher education—remains one of the greatest and most effective means of developing the abilities of members of our society, and it continues to deliver enormous benefits to all people and to strengthen our nation in countless ways.

But, of course, in the 54 years since President Kennedy’s proclamation, the costs of higher education have risen dramatically, more of the burden of paying for an education has shifted from the government to students and their families, and, as all of you are very much aware, the size of student debt has reached very concerning proportions nationally. As you know, in 2010, U.S. student loan debt surpassed credit card debt for the first time. In 2012, student loan debt reached an enormous $1 trillion.

Today, the specter of major debt hangs over more and more students and threatens their ability to establish themselves independently, productively, and successfully in society. It is particularly of concern for students from low-income or minority backgrounds and threatens to make a university education almost unobtainable for them. And it is of increasing concern for the middle class.

As United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in 2011: “These financial pressures, including the burden of defaulting, are not just numbers on a notice or a bill. They have lasting implications in the lives of our young adults. And, left unchecked, they pose a grave challenge to the promise of equal opportunity in America.”2

But the fact is that, for many students, incurring debt in order to earn a college degree is a necessity, and for most it is an excellent investment in their futures.

Given all of this, those of us who work in higher education have a responsibility to help our students make sound financial decisions based on a solid understanding of the implications of taking on excessive debt.

Toward that end, we established an Office of Student Financial Literacy here at Indiana University in 2012, as you may know. Many of you have established similar offices or similar programs within existing offices at your own institutions.

Under the auspices of our office, IU now sends annual student loan debt letters to all student borrowers, updating them on how much they have borrowed and what it will take to repay the loans. Yahoo Finance recently praised our student loan debt letter as one of five “genius ways colleges are tackling the student debt crisis.”3

You may also know that our MoneySmarts initiative, which includes an interactive website, one-on-one financial education by student peers, an online module for incoming students, workshops, and classes—all aimed at helping students make informed financial decisions—was recognized as a Model of Excellence by University Business magazine earlier this year.

I am proud to say that, in a very short period of time, the programs of IU’s Office of Student Financial Literacy have produced extremely positive results.

Borrowing by IU undergraduate students has decreased by nearly 16 percent over two years, resulting in approximately $44 million in debt savings.

Phil Schuman, director of the Office of Student Financial Literacy and co-chair of this summit, and Morgan McMillan, our Assistant Director, deserve our commendation, as do all of their colleagues across the university as well as the many students who work as peer financial educators. And, of course all of these programs are under the auspices of this afternoon’s keynote speaker, whom I will introduce in just a moment.

In addition to promoting financial literacy among our students, it is also incumbent on colleges and universities to keep a college education as affordable as possible, to minimize tuition increases, and to innovate to reduce operating costs and to increase productivity. All of these have been areas of intense focus for us over the past several years, and they will continue to be among our top priorities.

There is still much more to be done on Indiana University’s campuses and around the nation to address these enormous challenges.

But professionals like you accept these challenges and are working tirelessly to integrate financial wellness into our college culture, and you are to be commended for those efforts.

Introducing MaryFrances McCourt

Now, it is my pleasure to introduce this afternoon’s keynote speaker, a woman who really is passionate about financial wellness and who oversees Indiana University’s efforts in this vitally important area: MaryFrances McCourt.

MaryFrances joined Indiana University in 2005 as university treasurer. Because of her extensive experience in strategic planning and analysis, she soon took on responsibilities that were beyond the job description of a typical university treasurer. In addition to investments, capital finance and treasury operations, she also assumed responsibility for insurance and loss control, student loan administration, auxiliary accounting—including parking and housing—and the bursar’s office.

In late 2012, IU’s former vice president and CFO, Neil Theobald, left to become president of Temple University. MaryFrances’s background and experience made her the natural choice to succeed him.

MaryFrances has since made major contributions to IU’s comprehensive efforts to reduce costs, to control spending, and to ensure that we operate more efficiently. She helped to identify and implement major changes to our purchasing and procurement systems and oversaw the financial and operational aspects of two early retirement incentive programs for our employees—all of which resulted in major savings for the university amounting to more than $200 million dollars.

Last year, the Indianapolis Business Journal honored her as a CFO of the Year.

Please join me in welcoming this afternoon’s keynote speaker, Indiana University’s Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, MaryFrances McCourt.

Source Notes

  1. President John F. Kennedy, Proclamation 3422 – American Education Week, 1961, signed July 25, 1961.

  2. Arne Duncan, “Beyond the Iron Triangle: Containing the Cost of College and Student Debt,” Remarks delivered to the Federal Student Aid Conference, Las, Vegas, Nevada, November 29, 2011. URL: October 3, 2012.

  3. Mandi Woodruff, “5 Genius Ways Colleges are Tackling the Student Debt Crisis,” Yahoo! Finance, May 6, 2015, Web. Accessed June 22, 2015, URL: