New student financial literacy program launched on campus

Student loan debt is not on anyone’s list of favorite conversation topics, but Michelle Stock is making it easier for Upstate students to discuss.

Stock, assistant director of admissions and financial aid, has launched Cornerstone, a financial literacy program on campus. The name is a nod to the cornerstone of Weiskotten Hall, placed in 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Students who have met one-on-one with Stock and attended small-group presentations are grateful for the program, which is open to students in all four colleges at Upstate.

“As a first generation college graduate, an immigrant, and daughter of immigrants,” said Class of 2017 vice president Kethia Eliezer, “it is important for me to know what the best loans, scholarships, and repayment plans are out there for me since the bulk of my education costs will be paid by loans.”

Kethia’s classmate Alan Shum agreed.

“Saying that we graduate with a lot of debt is like saying ‘the sky is blue,’” he said. “But learning that this debt doesn’t have to define my career choices? That’s life changing. And exactly the reason why we need the Cornerstone program.”

The Class of 2016’s Finny John said halfway through medical school, he began to get e-mails from his loan server about the total he owed for his undergraduate and medical school education.

“I would quickly glance at the six-figure number, uncertain of how to feel about it,” Finny said. “What I was certain of was my lack of understanding about how I could repay this huge sum.”

Finny said he took a step in the right direction when he reached out to several physicians as well as to Stock. Classmate Adam Green concurred.

“After a year of accruing the debt necessary to pursue my goals of medical education I began to realize how little I knew about the loans I signed onto,” Adam said. “I looked to the Office of Financial Aid and Shelley, along with an attending physician, responded by offering two separate lectures that covered all of the basics of my loans and the best way for students to be prepared to repay them upon graduating.”

Stock said Cornerstone takes a three-pronged approach – educate, practice, empower – so that students can implement what they learn and make informed decisions about their financial future. (There are eight different loan repayment options, for instance.)

She tells students, “Ask me anything.” If a question is one they’d rather not voice in public, Stock encourages them to send her a text or stop by her office in 0217 Weiskotten Hall.

Students seem to prefer individual sessions, Stock said.

“We discuss the student’s specific educational indebtedness and calculate what their monthly payment will be in all repayment options available to them,” she said. “Then we come up with a short plan of action given their career path, life goals and projected lifestyle five years, 10 years and 20 years out.  This includes discussion on consolidation and loan forgiveness options.”

“Financial literacy is something we can all benefit from at all stages of life,” Kethia said. “But as a medical student, making thoughtful and informed decisions about my finance is as important as ever.”

Caption: Michelle “Shelley” Stock, assistant director of admissions and financial aid, discusses loan repayment plans and money-saving ideas with Upstate medical students Kethia Eliezer and Finny John.

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