The Center for Excellence in Financial Counseling (CEFC) at the University of Missouri-St. Louis was founded and funded with one overarching purpose: to develop replicable programs to improve the quality and effectiveness of education and counseling that is available to consumers in financial distress.
To achieve that goal, CEFC identifies pressing consumer financial counseling and education challenges and explores innovative, replicable solutions that incorporate evidence-based practices. CEFC designs, develops and delivers counselor training; supports and monitors pilot program implementation; and conducts third-party evaluation of program outcomes and impact. Once proof-of-concept is established, CEFC works to take its programs to scale.
For its first project, CEFC has focused on issues associated with student loan debt repayment. The main thrust of this initiative, which dates back to 2006, has been to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate a multi-phased pilot program to help borrowers who are overwhelmed by the repayment of their federal and private student loans, and who, as a result, are unable to access additional financial services and products. The resulting program is the first of its type in the country to help low- to moderate-income borrowers make informed choices about managing student loan debt.
The CEFC pilot program innovates by:
- Utilizing evidence-based, behavioral-change counseling model and practices.
- Implementing the program through contract arrangements with carefully selected providers.
- Training provider counselors in the protocol with an emphasis on diagnosis of available repayment options, money management and behavioral-change elements.
- Monitoring providers closely as they implement program protocol.
- Incorporating legal consultation, when appropriate, for borrowers and legal mentoring for financial counselors.
- Evaluating protocol implementation and program outcomes using professional third-party evaluators.