LUBBOCK, Texas - Texas Tech University's new Red to Black program has been bringing order out of chaos for students whose debts have outrun their income.
Provided by student peers who have navigated the financial planning courses of Tech's College of Human Sciences, the free counseling service offers strategies for dealing with credit cards and other debts.
Dorothy C. Bagwell, an assistant professor of family financial planning in the College of Human Sciences and the director of the new program, said the counseling takes place at the Career Center.
She doesn't handle the counseling sessions, but trains graduate students for the job of making sense out of numbers.
"Conceptually, we started in the fall of 2000," she said, and the service formally opened in February.
"We have been quietly counseling and openly offering presentations. So, since spring of 2001, we have been providing presentations. Last semester alone, we reached 500 people through our presentations."
Red to Black has seven counselors ready to help other students.
The Family Financial Planning program, the Center for Financial Responsibility, the Career Center and Student Affairs are cooperating in the Red to Black project.
Jason McGarraugh, a Red to Black graduate assistant, said the first session with a student who has come for counseling involves getting acquainted.
"We talk about what kind of problems they are having. Most of them stem from credit card overuse and just kind of getting behind in monthly payments. It starts to become overwhelming, and that's usually when they come to us," he said.
"Some come before it gets real bad."
Ms. Bagwell said that preventive skills are also encouraged.
"My hopes are that we can teach Tech students how to manage their finances and to teach Tech students how to be prepared for reaching their goals for meeting emergencies," she said.
Mark Allen, a counselor and graduate student in Family Financial Planning, said a software program on the lap-top computer he uses in the counseling sessions can show that a larger payment sometimes can reduce by four years the time it takes to pay a debt.
"I think people don't realize how much they are actually paying when it comes to credit cards, and how long it's going to take them to pay off their credit cards at the rate they are going."
Ms. Bagwell said the program is reaching students who have not established credit or are inexperienced with credit cards.
"Not only do we focus on the credit," she said, "but we focus on spending plans: How do you set up a spending plan? How do you live on a college budget? And how do you plan for things like that spring break trip or summer vacation?"