Michigan’s Student-Run Credit Unions Bring Communities Financial Education & Job Experience
It’s back-to-school season, and for credit unions, that means it’s time to open back up student-run credit union branches. Student-run credit union branches are exactly what they sound like: credit union branches placed within schools and operated by trained student employees.
The branches are located at schools across the state and serve a variety of purposes for schools, credit unions and students.
Student & Staff Benefits
Saginaw-based Wildfire Credit Union has a student-run branch at Heritage High School. The school’s assistant principal, Kenton Kraatz, told MCUL that the branch allows students to independently manage their money; using the branch can teach them basic money skills through real-life interactions, such as paying school-related fees, he said.
TBA Credit Union (TBACU) in Traverse City makes student-run branches a big part of their strategic plan each year. Marketing Specialist Jenna Tucker said their student branches, of which they have 18 total, “teach students the importance of saving early while also covering the basics of a first job, from the interview process to professionalism and confidentiality.”
“The overarching goal of the credit union is to serve the community and build trusted relationships, and our student-run branches help us serve the community by offering this program free of charge to participating schools,” said Tucker. “It also helps us build trusted relationships with educators and students throughout the school year, which in turn helps us continue these relationships throughout the years.”
Sheila Troxel, director of financial education for TRUE Community Credit Union, also said the student branch works as an extension of the organization’s larger goal, which is to “inspire a pursuit of a life well lived.”
The Mid-Michigan-based credit union started its student-run program back in 1991, and now has a total of 24 branches.
“We see student branches as being our connection to student partnership, helping them brace that life story that’s beyond their imagination — helping them save, share and spend wisely,” said Troxel.
However, Heritage High School’s assistant principal said student branches aren't just for the students — Kraatz said it also benefits the staff, who are able to use the school branch for basic banking access without having to make a trip to the nearest branch. Likewise, Troxel said student branches will take the occasional card or car payment from teachers.
“Kids like to wait on adults, and the truth is, teachers can’t always leave the classroom to make a deposit,” she said.
Good for the Whole Community
While student-run credit unions are a boon to a school’s student body and staff, their reach extends beyond that. According to LOC Credit Union, these branches not only help individuals, but an entire community.
“We are growing a stronger financial foundation for our communities by providing free financial education to our partnering school districts,” said LOC’s Community Impact Specialist Erin Ilg. “This allows our communities’ youth to take ownership of their finances at a young age. Students are able to use and participate in hands-on financial education programs that will serve them and create trust with their financial institution.”
Part of building community strength is, like Tucker said, the professional training aspect of the branch: teaching students how to prepare for job interviews, customer service and working in an industry where confidentiality is paramount.
Troxel said TRUE Community’s goal with in-school branches “is to provide a quality work experience for the students so they get an opportunity to interview, train and work and feel like they have that real-world experience.”
Among typical positions at a student-run branch are branch manager, teller, marketer, bookkeeper and computer operator.
According to Troxel, TRUE Community routinely has former student-branch employees coming back to the credit union as adult applicants looking to continue their career with the credit union. Similarly, earlier this year, Marshall Community Credit Union filled its open Financial Education Coordinator position by hiring Laura Van Dyke, who had started with the credit union a decade earlier as a student branch teller.
Raising Awareness in the Student Body
Yes, there are many benefits for students at in-school credit unions, but how do they find out about the branches and what they have to offer?
At the beginning of the school year, TRUE Community goes to each classroom of every school they have a branch in and does a financial education lesson about the importance of saving money. During that lesson, they talk to the students about the in-school branch and how they can join.
LOC shares regular communications throughout the district through digital and paper fliers, newsletters, informational and promotional videos and social media. TBACU takes a similar approach; in addition, student volunteers make announcements over the school’s PA system when the branch is open.
The primary use of these student branches is to give students practical access to trusted financial partners, but they are also part of credit unions’ larger strategy of bringing financial education to students in the community.
Thanks to House Bill 5190, which Gov. Whitmer signed earlier this year, Michigan credit unions’ efforts will be joined by a financial education curriculum that will become a high school graduation requirement starting in 2024.
“Our Michigan credit unions applaud the new law to bring mandatory financial education to our schools. The law aligns nicely as a complement to all the work several of our credit unions engage in to promote financial literacy all the way to our grade schools with Smart Money Michigan Kids Read books,” said MCUL CEO Patty Corkery. “We are proud of our credit unions that house branches inside schools. It is a glowing example of credit unions supporting their community.”
Credit unions interested in starting a student-run branch can download the Michigan Credit Union League’s handbook here or contact Foundation & Events Specialist Andrea Tucker.