A Lesson in Summit History

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It’s hard to believe this will be the 5th (insert current/previous known name) Summit.  I think it’s even crazier to think that a pretty casual idea that Bryan Ashton and I had back in late 2013 in Kansas City – it was the first time we had ever met face to face – has turned into an annual event, and our favorite time of year.  Really, though, the success of the Summit is due to the tremendous higher education financial wellness community and their commitment to helping make the Summit what it is.

Let me be transparent: when we worked on the first Summit in 2014, there was no guarantee anyone would show up.  We were planning for the Summit to happen in July 2014 and didn’t announce anything about the event until late January of that year.  Since we didn’t have any money for marketing we had to market in the Summit pyramid scheme-style: we told a few friends, and they told a few friends, and they told a few friends, and so on.  Amazingly 160 people showed up, representing 110 different institutions across the country.

There were certainly some bumps in 2014, but the response to the Summit was such that we knew we could do it again…especially since we had a little more time to plan.  In 2015, I had the opportunity to bring the community to my hometown: Bloomington, Indiana. I think this was where we started to realize that part of the importance of the Summit is the personality behind it.  To this day, we still get comments about the snack break of peanut butter and apples and the late-night bowling social in the Indiana Memorial Union. And - of course - the sessions, keynotes, and programming were also pretty darn good.

In 2016, we got even better - at least I think we did.  The Summit grew so large between years that many sessions were overflowed and we had to set up seating outside of the rooms.  While that’s not the most comfortable of settings for attendees, it was an indication to us that we were on the right track. In addition, we managed to have world-leading financial literacy researcher (Annamaria Lusardi) come to the Summit and speak about the current state of financial literacy across the world and remind us of the importance of our work.  And keeping with our amazing snack tradition, we pulled off a PB&J and milk break. Amazing.

Last year, we did what most people do on a yearly basis: avoid going back to Indiana.  Our good friends at the University of Minnesota volunteered to put on a good time…and they definitely came through.  Despite all of the branding changes between 2016 and 2017, we had a record number of attendees (299) and sessions (33), making it the most successful Summit to date.  Of course, you wouldn’t know this was the case because we forgot to hire a photographer/videographer to document the event. Such is the life of a conference run by a bunch of people new to running a conference.

Rest assured, though, that we will be documenting the 2018 Summit like no other conference in history.  There will be photographers, videographers, graphic recorders, and every other documenting professional represented.  With the Summit being held in amazing Portland, Oregon, we don’t think we’d be going overboard if we did that. We’re excited that our community has grown large enough that we can hold the Summit out west.  We’re hoping that by doing so, we can bring in some new institutions and expand the Summit’s reach. Already we’re seeing new institutions registering for the Summit…and we hope that will continue. With a great lineup of keynotes (https://www.hefwa.org/2018-keynote-speakers/) and our soon-to-be released breakout session schedule, we think you’ll enjoy our few days together in Portland.  So if you haven’t registered, do it.


Phil Schuman serves as Director of Financial Literacy for Indiana University and Co-Chair of the Higher Education Financial Wellness Summit.

Up until starting his Director role in 2012, Phil was unaware that educating others about financial decisions could be an actual career.  But as Indiana University continued their focus on college access and affordability, the opportunity to educate students on personal finance presented itself to him.

Since the establishment of the Office of Financial Literacy, student debt levels at IU have decreased by 17% ($112.8 million).  The decline is, in part, due to the creation of student peer-to-peer financial education, the interactive moneysmarts.iu.edu website, and the implementation of a student debt letter provided to all student loan borrowers at IU.

Phil also is Co-Founder of MoneySmarts U, an online, interactive financial education platform that provides financial education to students when they need to know it. The platform is designed to serve students and parents across the United States.

Phil graduated with a BA in Psychology from DePauw University and an MBA from Indiana University.