Santa Fe College creates financial wellness center with Vystar Credit Union

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As a student at Santa Fe College, Reine Labaki wants to graduate with more than a degree. Labaki also aims to learn financial wellness along with studying clinical laboratory science. Coming from Lebanon and never attending a big school before, Labaki entered Santa Fe to complete a bachelor’s and interact with professors – not to worry about debt.

That goal is now easier for Labaki and other students at Santa Fe to achieve: the school teamed up with VyStar Credit Union to establish its Financial Wellness Center, which opened at the beginning of fall semester. Located at the college’s Northwest Campus in Gainesville, the center provides students access to financial resources, wellness support and budgetary consultations with credit union employees.

Colin Benner, coordinator of client services and financial aid at Santa Fe, became interested in financial wellness through helping students allocate aid disbursements. As chair of the college’s financial wellness committee, Benner teamed with VyStar to campaign for the partnership.

“I am excited about this partnership because it gives our students access to financial wellness professionals to provide personalized guidance,” Benner said. “It is not a class or group presentation; it is one-on-one support where [students] can get all their questions answered.”

As of Sept. 6, the college’s new student enrollment rate increased by 13%. Among the new students are high school graduates, young adults who took a gap year and adults returning to education from the workforce. VyStar provides opportunities for the college’s diverse population to manage their specific financial challenges.

“Students having a plan to afford their education and maintain financial stability while they are in school are ways that the Financial Wellness Center benefits student’s ability to enroll and stay enrolled,” Benner said, “We want high enrollment in the sense that it means more students are pursuing credentials that will better their lives.”

The program is an official partnership with the school with direction from Santa Fe President Paul Broadie II. Naima Brown, vice president of student affairs, facilitated the agreement with VyStar Credit Union.

“Being able to make an online or in-person appointment to have a free and confidential session on personal finances is a huge benefit for our students,” Brown said, “…especially for those who may receive large sums of money through financial aid and need a plan to make those dollars stretch.” 

Besides offering weekly consultations on budgeting for deficits, regulating debt and planning for retirement, the VyStar team created financial wellness higher education courses.

“I appreciate VyStar University and the free online courses that are available to students 24/7,” Brown said, “Earned credentials open doors to high-wage positions. We want our students to already have good financial habits so that they can create and maintain wealth.”

Parking spots in front of the Financial Wellness Center is reserved for VyStar employees during one-on-one consultation days (Samantha Inselberg, WUFT News)

In 2006, VyStar launched its Academy of Business High School Branch Program. After distributing over 1,350 paid internships and offering financial training to over 70,000 high school students, Vystar expanded the program to colleges. As the vice president of school programs, Michael Rathjen aims to equip as many students as possible throughout Northeast Florida.

“We’ve found there is a large segment of students who are interested in learning how to effectively save their money,” Rathjen said, “Concepts like setting smart goals, developing a budget, establishing a tracking method that they’ll stick with and being a wise consumer come into play.”

Although there are financial institutions that visit other colleges, the partnership between Vystar and Santa Fe exclusively exists to provide financial direction for the whole student body.

“We are very pleased with the early stages of the program,” Rathjen said, “Our partnership started Aug. 23, and we have already had students book one-on-one appointments for their personal consultation at our Financial Wellness Center at Santa Fe.”

About Samantha Inselberg

Samantha is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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