CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A junior political science major at Marshall University had help applying for financial aid through the West Virginia GEAR UP program before he became a college student.

Specifically, Ikie Brooks from Uneeda credits Elizabeth Manuel, GEAR UP college access and success program director, with starting him out on the right financial track ahead of his graduation from Boone County’s Scott High School.

“She would have us do scholarship searches, things to go ahead and get ready, prepping us for what colleges wanted on scholarships,” Brooks explained. “We also had financial aid tutors that would come and talk to individual families and help them make their own plans.”

Many new college students, though, often don’t get that kind of support and find themselves thrust into financial independence with little guidance about credit, loans, savings and other assets.

To help, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and the Education Alliance unveiled a new initiative on Thursday called “Make Cents WV” to provide financial literacy tools and resources to students, families and educators.

Going forward, the emphasis will be on teaching students about financial planning in preparation for the major investment of higher education.

In high school, “An 18-year-old student doesn’t necessarily get everything that they need to know about balancing a checkbook and managing their financial affairs on a day-to-day basis,” said Dr. Paul Hill, chancellor of the Higher Education Policy Commission.

Borrowing money for tuition or seeking grants is another matter altogether.

“We’ve all heard those awful stories about students who have gotten into a lot of debt, not knowing the ramifications of what they were doing when they originally started out,” he said.

The Alliance is leading the effort that will be funded with a grant from the Commission’s West Virginia GEAR UP program.

Those also involved in “Make Cents WV” include the West Virginia Community and Technical College System, the West Virginia State Treasurer’s Office, the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office, the West Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, the West Virginia Bankers Association and the West Virginia Department of Education.

The goals of “Make Cents WV” are as follows:

– Implement financial literacy lessons in 100 classrooms across West Virginia by 2018
– Increase participating students’ financial literacy by 50%
– Support the Commission’s goal of ensuring that 60 percent of the state’s high school seniors complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) by April 15, 2017

“The sooner we can get that information in their hands and that they understand the basics of managing financially, the better,” Hill told MetroNews.

“College is a really big avenue and this program really puts the focus on the financial literacy because they’ve seen there’s so much struggle when it comes to that,” said Brooks, a speaker during Thursday’s event.

To supplement financial literacy lessons, a new website, makecentswv.org, has launched to serve as a resource for families, students and educators.

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