COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State University Extension's Latino Financial Literacy Program received long, loud applause from U.S. Treasurer Rosario MarÃn Monday evening in the Columbus suburb of Gahanna. MarÃn, the first foreign-born Treasurer of the United States and the highest-ranking Latina in the Bush administration, visited one of the program's Spanish-language classes to offer a certificate of recognition and many words of encouragement. "The U.S. Treasury applauds your efforts to educate Columbus-area Hispanics about the basic building blocks of personal finance," said MarÃn, first in English and then in Spanish. "A strong foundation of financial literacy is key to helping these families succeed in their pursuit of prosperity. You are doing an outstanding job." Also in attendance was Ohio Lt. Gov. Jennette Bradley, who welcomed MarÃn to Ohio and highlighted the importance of financial education for the state's development. "This visit is of great importance for the future of our program," said course instructor and coordinator RubÃ©n Nieto, Latino outreach program manager with OSU Extension in Franklin County. "The recognition and publicity we have received will give us a more solid base to obtain grants and support to keep this service going and growing. Also, the presence of Ms. Bradley in this event is very important for OSU Extension, as she had an opportunity to see how we are making a difference in our communities." After saluting the financial literacy program, the Mexican-born MarÃn joined Nieto in teaching class participants about credit. She answered questions from students and insisted on the importance of opening checking and savings accounts as a first step toward establishing good credit, attaining home ownership and starting a business. "There are 10 million Americans who have never set foot in a financial institution, and up to 40 percent of them are Latinos," MarÃn said. "Many Latinos are paying high fees for basic financial services that are offered free of charge by banks and credit unions. Others are paying up to 30-percent interest to buy an old car because they haven't established credit. And that's all because they don't know any better." Conducted by OSU Extension in partnership with the Ohio Credit Union Foundation and Columbus-based credit unions OhioHealth, Telhio and Western, the Latino Financial Literacy Program was developed in 2002 to help central Ohio's growing Hispanic population become more educated about personal finance. Last year, more than 225 individuals from 12 Latin American countries attended at least one of the free course's four weekly sessions, and 53 percent of them graduated. The course is being offered again this year from February through December at area churches and other community organizations. Monday's class, from 6:30-9 p.m., was held at Shepherd Church of the Nazarene, 425 South Hamilton Rd. Developed by Nieto, a native of Venezuela, the course curriculum covers budgeting, setting financial goals, establishing and maintaining good credit, and gaining access to financial products and services. The program has also received certificates of recognition from the Columbus City Council and Ohio Gov. Bob Taft. "In spite of lacking economic resources, this program has been able to succeed thanks to the cooperation of many agencies in the Columbus area," Nieto pointed out. "Now we want to make this service available to other communities around Ohio." Nieto and Sue Helmreich, manager of outreach programs for the Ohio Credit Union League, are looking for grants and sponsors to offer similar courses in other Ohio cities whose Hispanic populations are on the rise -- Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo. According to the most recent U.S. Census, Ohio's Hispanic population grew 32 percent between 1990 and 2000, reaching 240,000. However, OSU Extension faculty and staff who work with this group believe the actual number is much higher. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.