Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

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Duel in the Desert: Colleges Compete in Financial Skills Challenge

Eleven student teams from universities around the country took part in a competition that would prepare them for one of the fastest growing careers in the country: credit counseling. They braved sleeplessness, unfamiliar surroundings, and a fictitious case of a family who was in debt beyond their wildest dreams.

All of their results brought conclusions, but only one team could pass muster for a judging panel of professionals in the field of credit management. That team was from Ohio State University. They took the $3,000 grand prize, with the University of North Carolina winning $2,000 for second and Texas State earning $1,000 for third.

The Duel in the Desert, which was co-sponsored by the University of Arizona’s Credit Wise Cats and a local credit counseling agency, was designed to give teams a chance to put their classroom knowledge to work, guiding a Tucson family of four through imminent death, two growing boys, and $250,000 in medical bills.

“This is frighteningly realistic, and I’ve seen it thousands of times in my years working in the field,” said Pete Rose, head judge for the event, as he briefed other judges on how the students would be critiqued.

The teams were given 36 hours to cover the three aspects of the competition, which included problem identification, problem solution, and overall quality of the presentation. They were told to compile their information into a military precision timed 20-minute presentation, all of which began bright and early on a Saturday morning.

However, the University of Texas at Austin faced its own dilemma. Plane delays forced them to not get their hands on the case study until 11 a.m. on Friday, less than 24 hours before the event. They were finalizing copies for their reports at 5 a.m. and took the remaining three hours before presenting for final preparation.

University of Texas student Sherri Watts chose to gaze at the snow-covered Santa Catalina Mountains rather than enjoy the sumptuous brunch before the finalists were announced. She was already analyzing the disasters her team incurred.

“I’m too tired to eat,” she said. “I think I’m on my 30th hour without sleep right now. It just seemed like we were doomed from the start.”

Presentation quality took up the majority of the 100-point scoring system, with a best score of 40 points possible in that category. Other aspects included how logical their proposals were and also how well they researched the immediate and future credit roadblocks the family might run into on their way out of debt.

Ohio State leaned away from the business-style executive summaries designed by the North Carolina team and the finely tuned presentation carried out by Texas State.

The logical, realistic and sensible plan that the Ohio State team created put them at the top, according to the judges. The team won with only 36 more total points than North Carolina, and a hand ballot majority.

Ohio State team member Jeff Klusmeier said his team put the majority of its energy into the actual content of their solution rather than the presentation details. This strategy served them well since they ran short of time during both rounds of the competition.

“[In other competitions] we would cram all of this material…using 8-point font. This time we just did them late last night,” Klusmeier said of their shoddy executive summary as he and his three teammates posed for a slew of victory pictures “We decided to just cover the basic concepts and let the presentation speak for itself.”

Before his team was to perform its final round, Jack Hogue, assistant dean of undergraduate affairs and director of University of North Carolina’s Students In Free Enterprise chapter, paced the hallway outside the room where the event took place. He said that above all, the experience of competing alone gave students the best glimpse of real world credit counseling.

“They’re pulling resources together and working directly with a community, this is very realistic,” Hogue said.

Hogue added that with the growth of the credit industry and the children of baby boomers drifting further into adulthood, the need for credit counseling is growing exponentially.

Project Coordinator and UA student James Tang Mills noted that many of the participants were life sciences, biology, and other majors that have no direct relation to the field of credit management.

“They’re all only financially focused, which is great,” Tang Mills said.

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