God Owns It All, and Groundwork Financial Center Teaches Students How to Manage It
For most of us, financial literacy is a matter of numbers, but for Ron Winowiecki, it’s a matter of the heart. He knows that our choices about our resources reflect not just what we know, but also what we value — even more, they should reflect what God values.
Ron is the director of Cornerstone University’s Groundwork Financial Center (GFC). The Center is nestled under the wing of the School of Business & Innovation, and Ron leads the finance program, but the GFC extends their reach beyond majors to the entire student body. The GFC works to empower all students to make wise decisions about their resources of time, value and money. It does this through partnering with other Cornerstone programs and professors, trained student peer mentors, and a university-sponsored semester-long course.
Yes, Winowiecki teaches students about budgeting, compounding interest and tithing. But that isn’t what he starts with. He first builds a foundation in Scripture: “Two thousand verses in Scripture and 16 of the 38 parables relate to money and possessions. It isn’t just a snippet. The Bible really leans into our faith journey including financial wisdom.”
The core of Groundwork’s curriculum is the simple idea that God owns it all. And Winowiecki means all: “God owns all our financial resources. What we have, we receive from God. That means we’re managers of God’s resources and we should manage those resources in a way that’s aligned with God’s wisdom and God’s plan for use in His kingdom. Every decision we make regarding money and possessions is a spiritual decision.”
This Biblical foundation brings about one of the common Aha! moments students experience in the course because it gives them a kingdom-level reason to make small smart choices now so they can make a big difference in the future. He loves it when students realize, “So if I just do that little bit, which doesn’t look complicated or hard, I can have this 30 or 40 years later? And Scripture tells me to do that!”
Students are hungry for those Aha! moments. Winowiecki leads a four-week session in the Freshman Foundations course that every incoming first-year student takes. Before he starts, he gives them a survey on financial literacy. It isn’t graded, but if it were, only a handful of the 750 students who have ever taken it would have a B grade. Two-thirds fail it outright, and the rest just squeak by.
The GFC uses materials from the Ron Blue Institute to ground students in a faith-based approach that helps them counter their financial anxiety. Students explore what the Bible teaches and assess where they’re at in their beliefs about stewardship, contentment, faith, and wisdom — this is the HEART work. They learn how to be real about the HEALTH of their current situation in terms of income, giving, debt, taxes and growth. Learning about the five Biblical principles — spend less than you earn, give generously, avoid debt, set long-term goals, plan for financial margin — helps them determine their strengths and weaknesses in their HABITS. All of this is aimed at HOPE, which he describes as, “a meter of moving from instability and fear to stability and wisdom.”
Winowiecki’s goal is for students to be transformed by what they learn about God, themselves and the complex financial world they’re in.
He’ll be the first to tell you that he doesn’t do it alone. The support of the Cornerstone president, the chief financial officer, the faculty, the GFC’s advisory board and the sponsors who provide 90% of their funding all contribute to the center’s success. But he doesn’t do the day-to-day work alone, either: student peer coaches work alongside him to share the vision of financial wisdom.
Research from the Ron Blue Institute shows that the best way to reach a student is with someone they can connect with: another student. Eight coaches have been trained how to guide their fellow students through a financial question or concern. Students come to the coaches for help navigating matters like buying a car or a house, cash flow management, anxiety about their debt, and investing.
The coaches are trained to follow a similar model to the course. They share a devotional that speaks to the issue the student has come to them about, evaluates where the student is at, gives them the education they were seeking, and prays over them. But the coaches take it one step further, meeting with the student a few times to help them track how they’re putting the plan into practice. Winowiecki says, “We’ve all seen a budgeting system, but how many people really follow it? Discipline is hugely important, so we try to make it personal on the practice aspect.”
One of Winowiecki’s favorite things about his work is watching the coaches blossom as they grow in their skills, in realizing their own strengths and in using those strengths to help people: “If somebody’s not out there looking to hire our coaches, they’re missing out.”
Students leave Winowiecki’s university course with written goals, a financial plan and the skills they’ll need to be their own financial planner. But the joy for him is when they report, “I’m learning more than just financial wisdom. I’m learning about stewardship of what God wants in His kingdom.” They will reap the fruits of their transformation as they live as wise stewards of the resources God gives them.