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The Financial Education Experience We Need Right Now

We have the ability and the knowledge to create lasting and meaningful change now. Let’s not lose this opportunity.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

At a time when the future of education is being debated, we have an opportunity to not just evolve for COVID-related reasons but to reexamine more broadly what and how we learn. One of these areas includes financial literacy.

I have talked with several leaders in the financial community, and more often than not, they say the same thing regarding financial matters: “I wish I had learned that in school.” Education is often playing catch up to the needs of a generation. Today’s students need practical and critical thinking around how to manage their finances and money. With a recent study showing that Gen Zers are anxious about their economic prospects, and the country grappling with unprecedented economic uncertainty, the time is now to make sure our young people have the tools to navigate their finances. We have an opportunity as a community to grow and shatter the boundaries of silence about money and finances among higher learning institutions and across school systems.

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As we mobilize our resources to facilitate students returning to some semblance of normalcy, institutions should think beyond the format of only classes and consider how to adapt their curricula and cultures to best prepare our youth for an entirely different job market and economic landscape that is unfolding. One of the most important concepts is financial literacy and adapting the student experience to facilitate discussions around money. If anything, time away from the physical classroom is showing us that it’s more important than ever to think about education broadly. Students don’t just learn from classroom instruction, but rather from their fellow students, friends, family, bosses and the broader academic community. Here’s how we can start to integrate much-needed financial literacy into today’s college experience.

Introduce and Revamp Financial Literacy Courses

In order to equip our youth with financial skills, we must award it the appropriate level of gravity. For example, Iowa has mandated that public universities require their students to take a financial literacy course, and Scripps College has dedicated programs to developing these critical skills. Sessions directly address the world that students are charging into, giving practical advice on filing taxes, debt, banking, loans and even salary negotiations—as well as how to navigate finances during volatile economic swings. Institutions can look at their surrounding local communities and businesses as a way to showcase relatable examples, in addition to working with alumni networks. We need to demystify these conversations and make them as natural and normal as any introductory class.

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Encourage Money Talks Within Your Circles

Leaving college, students not only have the educational background to succeed but also broader life experiences from time spent with students of different backgrounds, ethnicities and socio-economic statuses. Imagine a world where part of these conversations involved learning from each other about money! We learn so much from our friends and classmates, and typically some of these views formed in college stay with us well into adulthood. The same should be true about money—I encourage you to listen to these stories from incredibly successful leaders today and be inspired by their openness about their struggles with money—and get insight into how you or your kids can start these conversations within your own networks.

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Establish Valuable Connections

We are often told about the power of networks and for good reason. Building relationships should mean surrounding yourself with individuals who add value and meaning to your life. Tina Wells coined the term “friend-tership,” and I couldn’t agree more. Work actively to connect with individuals who you can learn from—share information you have found valuable with them, and when the opportunity arises, ask them for advice on financial situations you are unfamiliar with. Teachers, professors, bosses, internship colleagues, guidance counselors and other support staff in schools and colleges can help serve this role. Schools can identify resources within the surrounding local business community that can shed light on some of these issues. They can also explore partnerships with these businesses when feasible, for example, by inviting them to a fireside chat about their money story. Be of value and you will receive value in return.

As we navigate this new world, let us pause and look ahead. How can we best equip our youth with the necessary tools and money skills so that they find security and success in our increasingly uncertain world? We have the ability and the knowledge to create lasting and meaningful change now. Let’s not lose this opportunity.

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