Iowa Financial Literacy Program

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This week’s blogger is Clara Reynen, a sophomore at Clara CroppedBurlington High School. On Thursday, April 24, 2014, Clara and her fellow classmates were honored with a certification ceremony after completing the Iowa Financial Literacy Program. During the ceremony Clara gave a speech about her experience with the program to her peers and other attendees. Clara’s message can be read below.

Graduating high school without a basic grasp of financial literacy is like jumping into a pool without knowing how to swim. I think we all know that neither is a secure or safe idea.

Before taking the Iowa Financial Literacy Program through Everfi, I only had a slight inkling of what the real world of money would entail, and that terrified me. I knew that I would have to pay for college, but I didn’t how I would even approach the subject. I hoped to live in a house someday, but I had never considered renting anything other than an apartment. As I looked to the future the thought of owning a credit card and using it responsibly made me want to crawl into my bed and watch Netflix for a day or two.

When I started the Iowa Financial Literacy Program, I expected to read paragraph after paragraph of boring and outdated information about how to file taxes and find the smart way out of college debt. Instead, I was presented with bright visuals and current information that allowed me to learn all about how to be smart in the future. I learned that there is such thing as good debt, which completely surprised me — student loans secure a better future and a higher salary, and if I act responsibly, I can earn money in the end. The program has taught me how to be comfortable with money and how to make smart financial decisions. I’m no longer scared of the future. I know that regardless of where I go to school, what I major in, where I live and what I end up doing with my life, I can be a successful role model for those around me.

I would like to thank all our wonderful teachers for making the time to allow us to learn about something so crucial and important, something that will only allow us to further our education. Midwest One Bank has also been incredibly generous, sponsoring the program and sending in bank employees to talk to us on almost a weekly basis. Lastly, I want to encourage all of my classmates to remember everything that the Iowa Financial Literacy Program through Everfi has taught us, so that the Class of 2016 can be a prosperous one.


Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

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As National Teacher Appreciation Week comes to a close, staff at Iowa College Aid would like to take the opportunity to recognize all educators for their hard work and incredible dedication to students and families across the state. We understand that being a teacher can be a very difficult, and at times, thankless profession. However, the work that you do each day not only impacts the lives of the students in your classroom, but their families and communities. Your selfless efforts foster and strengthen the state of Iowa through the immeasurable power of education. We would like to express our immense gratitude to all educators for the extraordinary job you do every day!

STEM Fields – Discover your best bet for landing a job in Iowa’s changing economy

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Obtaining a college degree remains one of the most important things you can do to increase your income potential and decrease your likelihood of being unemployed. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” young college graduates outperform their peers with less education on virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment. However, having a degree does not guarantee employment. Just as level of education impacts employment, so does your field of study.

In recent years, a number of technology-related companies have been established in Iowa, increasing the state’s need for workers trained in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and  Mathematics) related fields. In a Des Moines Register article, we see evidence that the arrival of incoming Iowa companies are creating more high paying jobs, and the demand for an educated workforce continues to grow with the arrival of companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google.

According to Iowa Workforce Development’s (IWD) Iowa’s Workforce and the Economy 2013 report, Iowa’s economy has shown improvement throughout the year 2012, adding more jobs and lowering the rate of unemployment. In addition, IWD projected that Iowa’s total occupational employment will increase by 13 percent between 2010 and 2020, particularly in STEM-related fields. Occupations expected to surpass the state’s annual growth rate within this ten-year time span include:

  • Computer and Mathematical
  • Healthcare Practitioner
  • Community and Social Services
  • Construction
  • Installation/Maintenance/Repair
  • Engineering and Architecture
  • Transportation and Material Moving
  • Business and Financial
  • Arts/Entertainment/Media

A full list of these high-demand, high-salaried occupations are located on Iowa’s Hot 50 Jobs List.

With a high need for these technically-trained workers, more grants and scholarships have become available to assist Iowan’s in gaining the education needed to fill these gaps in the workforce.

The Kibbie Grant, for example, is funded through the state and provides tuition assistance to Iowa residents seeking an education in fields that have a skilled workforce shortage. Eligible applicants must be Iowa residents enrolled in a qualified program of study at an Iowa community college, and demonstrate financial need. Eligible programs of study include areas related to health, computer science/information technology, automotive, industrial technology, sustainable energy and more.

Many of the degrees or certificates needed for some of the state’s high demand occupations can be earned in two years or less. To learn more about colleges in Iowa that offer these programs as well as the Kibbie Grant and other scholarship opportunities, visit

Make a Lasting Impression with an Elevator Pitch

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So you’re finally attending that career fair, or maybe you even ran into the perfect networking opportunity out of the blue. How will you dazzle that recruiter or hiring manager? By having an ‘elevator pitch,’ a 30-90 second speech that highlights who you are, your strengths and why you’d be ideal for the job (or internship).

Develop a hook. Try to grab his or her interest right away with an interesting opening line. While it’s essential to give your name and major, try to find an unusual angle. This goes double for events such as career fairs where recruiters are talking to dozens of job seekers over the course of several hours. You’ll want to make the extra effort to be memorable.

Highlight your strengths and passions. After your hook, go on to talk about your skills, experiences and interests. Be sure to back up your claims by providing examples and accomplishments from coursework, jobs, internships, student organization involvement and volunteer work.

Do your research. Be sure to mention a specific fact you looked up about the company or position. This shows how interested you are in working there and that you’re a highly motivated applicant. An example would be mentioning you saw their recently developed company Instagram account and then bring up your experience with social media and photography.

Close with a request. Lastly, end your elevator speech by asking to set up a time to discuss the position further. If a request isn’t appropriate, you can also close by transitioning into a question you have prepared for the recruiter.

Practice, practice, and you guessed it, practice. After you have a draft written down, practice reading it aloud to make sure your speech flows properly when spoken. To build your confidence, practice in front of a mirror so you can see how you look while vocalizing your speech. Next ask family, friends and mentors to let you practice with them and critique your performance.

Be flexible and ready to improvise. No matter how well you may have rehearsed your speech, the conversation may take an unexpected turn. The recipient of your speech may jump in with his or her own questions and comments. So be ready to answer extemporaneous questions while working highlights of your elevator pitch into the conversation.

Benefits of Beginning at a Community College

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Brittany FlackThis week’s blogger is Brittany Flack, who started her college career at Western Iowa Tech Community College. Brittany earned an Associate of Arts degree and an Associate of Science degree. She is continuing her education at the University of Iowa with the goal of becoming an optometrist.

While researching colleges as a senior in high school, I was torn between where to go. I knew that I could save money by attending a community college prior to enrolling at a 4-year institution. Western Iowa Tech Community College (WITCC) turned out to be the best opportunity for me. With a few scholarships that covered book fees, residence hall expenses, meal plans and tuition, it was practically free. I knew upon graduating high school that I wanted to pursue my dream of being an optometrist and that it would take eight years to attain that goal. I had taken a few college credit classes during high school and therefore I could graduate from WITCC in one year with an Associate of Arts degree and an Associate of Science degree. All of my classes would easily transfer to the University of Iowa.

From the first day at WITCC, I felt comfortable in the environment. I knew I wanted to get involved right away. I joined the Student Leadership Academy, Phi Theta Kappa, became a Student Ambassador and tried out for the dance team. As a student ambassador, I was able to inspire people through my experiences and inform them about how to prepare for college. Through Phi Theta Kappa, I became the president, raised money for the backpack program and started the C4 challenge program to complete a degree at a community college. I talked to the students and faculty about the importance of earning a degree and the benefits that will come of it. I was also selected for on the All-Iowa Academic Team and considered for the All American Academic Team that ultimately earned me a scholarship at the University of Iowa. On the Student Leadership Academy, we discussed ways to make the college a better place for students and implemented a program to provide free bus passes for students without vehicles. On the dance team, we performed at the State Dance Competition and received second place in our division. We performed during the Sioux City Bandits’ football games and were featured in school commercials.  I also met a lot of people by getting involved in intramural sports on campus.

By far, the relations I developed at WITCC will my classmates, teachers, advisors and the staff are the biggest benefits to starting at a community college. There was never a moment I had to show my student ID to be recognized, everyone knew me by name…and still knows me by name. My teachers and advisors went above and beyond to create a path for my future. My memories from community college are indescribable because they are so unique. I have grown so much from the potential that the WITCC community saw in me. They really made me realize that my dreams could be reached.

After graduating from WITCC, I remain involved with the college. Over breaks I have gone back and talked to high school classrooms about my experience. I have also taken extra summer classes and winter term classes during my breaks at the University of Iowa. My pictures are still used in brochures, commercials and banners.  After two years I am still in contact with some of my teachers and classmates. I have even applied to teach a summer Biology course at WITCC since I will have by bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa. There are unlimited possibilities when you begin at a community college and the opportunities are growing. I would not be in the position that I am in today without taking this path. I am three years out of high school with an Associate’s of Arts Degree, an Associate’s of Science Degree and soon a Bachelor’s in Health and Human Physiology—all in pursuit of my dream of being an Optometrist.

Dress for success

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With graduation just around the corner, many students are about to enter the working world. This transition from student to employee can be daunting, however dressing the part doesn’t have to be! Standard advice given by mentors and managers is to dress for the job you want, not the job you have currently. Even in this day of business casual dress codes, your professional image will set you apart from your coworkers who are less concerned about projecting a professional image and serve you well when promotions are available.

More and more companies are turning to business casual dress codes, allowing employees to work more comfortably in the work place. Business casual can be fun because it allows you to put a bit of your own spunky spin on what you’re wearing; however, it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Since you still need to project a professional image for customers, colleagues and community visitors, here are a few tips for dressing the part.

Fit counts.

Buying items that are too big can make you appear sloppy regardless of your actual size. This is bad news if you’re gunning for that promotion. On the other hand, clothing that is too tight or revealing is unprofessional and inappropriate for work.

Get out the iron!

(Or, if you don’t have one, buy one!) Clothing should never be wrinkled. Torn, dirty, or frayed clothing is unacceptable, as is any clothing that has words, terms, or pictures that may be offensive to other people.

Beyond the clothing.

Looking professional in a business casual atmosphere takes more than the right clothes. Women and men should be clean and appropriately groomed.  The hair on your head and any facial hair should be trimmed and washed regularly. If hair is dyed, it should be a color that appears natural and piercings should be kept to a minimum.  Jewelry must be tasteful and classy, and perfumes should be used sparingly and not be overpowering.

If in doubt, ask!

The fact is that “business casual” dress codes vary and some businesses are stricter than others.  Look around at what your coworkers are wearing to get an idea of what is appropriate at your company or ask your human resources department for the official dress code.

So, what works?

Business casual is generally more traditional for men, including dress or khaki pants, long sleeve collared shirts, a belt and dress shoes.  Short sleeve collared shirts and polo shirts may also work, depending on your employer.  Woman should wear button down shirts (don’t forgot the camisole for the layering effect!), sweaters, dress pants, knee-length skirts and modest heels or flats.  Peep-toe shoes and capri pants are great for the summer, but may not be approved in all offices.

By following these simple rules, the next time you’re meeting new people or talking to your boss about a promotion, you can feel confident that you’ve put your business casual style to work and look the part!

Celebrate Financial Literacy Month

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April is officialliflpy Financial Literacy Awareness Month in Iowa and nationally. Too many       students still enter adulthood unprepared to make large purchases and wise decisions regarding their finances.  According to Charles Schwab’s 2011 Teens & Money Survey Findings, 75% of teens (ages 16-18) say that learning more about money management is one of their top priorities. To celebrate the importance of financial literacy, take a look at these options for fun, creative ways to implement money management skills in the classroom and at home.



  1. Get certified in financial literacy.  Iowa College Aid partners with EverFi, Inc and local financial institutions to provide the Iowa Financial Literacy Program at no cost to Iowa schools. These fun, interactive online modules cover such topics as: credit scores, banking, investing and other finance-related topics. Each module meets the financial literacy essential concepts and skills of the Iowa Core.
    Have your students complete the program to prepare them for budgeting and handling their future finances, such as paying for postsecondary education. Iowa College Aid also provides Vault, designed to teach financial literacy to students in grades 4-6. For more information, contact Iowa College Aid at 877-272-4456.
  2. Take the 30 steps to financial wellness. The experts at Money Management International have provided a list of 30 steps to achieving financial wellness. These 30 steps begin with pledging a commitment to change and cover such aspects as assessing your financial situation, cleaning up your credit report, goal-setting and more.
  3. Utilize free resources. There is a plethora of free financial webinars, worksheets and tools available online. Check out such sites as Nelnet, 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, and Credit Karma.
  4. Complete the 52 WEEK MONEY Challenge.   This challenge has gained a lot of attention through social media and encourages everyone to save a dollar in the first week, then increase the amount by a dollar each following week. Put your own twist on the challenge for your classroom and make it a contest.