Four Solutions to Developing a Financial Literacy Program

Financial problems cause major problems at the community, national, and global levels. To address these issues, an increasing number of organizations have begun to develop and/or expand their own financial education programming.

Many of these organizations face the same dilemma: “Should we create a program from scratch, develop our own financial literacy curriculum, piece together material we find online, or purchase programming from another company?”

The answer depends on your goals, the expertise of your staff, and your timeline. This article provides quick, practical tips on how to locate financial literacy programming that fits your organizational and learning objectives.

Option 1: In-house Development & Deployment

Creating your own financial literacy programming is a big undertaking that will require convening a team of experts. Developing your own package can be beneficial if you have major customization needs.

You can anticipate between 30 and 50 hours of development time to complete each hour of curriculum. For example, if you plan to create a half-day course, the process will take between 150 and 250 hours of development time spread out over 6 – 12 months. Once you’ve completed the creation phase, you’ll need additional time to pilot the materials with students and make final revisions.

We suggest that you conduct focus groups and student assessments during each development stage to ensure that the presentations work (demonstrating positive short-term results using pre- and post-tests). The main goal is to conduct long-term measurement to learn whether the participants adopt lasting positive financial behaviors. The problem when you develop your own material is that you won’t know the long-term results until years after you’ve invested your time and money.

For organizations that want to brave the world of content creation, here is a list of members you should have in place on your expert team: researcher, instructional designer, content developer (instructor guide, student guide, testing, instructor resources, etc.), editor, layout designer, cover designer, lawyer (legal disclaimers and compliance review).

James Dean Brown at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa wrote a comprehensive white paper on curriculum development. His paper explains the mistakes he made during more than 35 years of curriculum development, and offers valuable solutions on how to avoid or overcome these common issues. For any organization considering developing its own curriculum, Brown’s paper is a must-read – Click here to read.

Option 2: Piece Together Free Material

For those organizations looking to produce shorter (say 30- to 90-minute workshops), piecing together complimentary programming options may be a good option. If you’re designing longer courses, the time required to gather “free” resources can end up costing even more than other available options.

Although you can find free personal finance materials accessible online, you still will incur personnel and/or opportunity costs. Locating complimentary material online takes time to research and compile. Since the pieces are not designed to work together, you’ll need additional time to practice the presentations, get the timing down, and work on transitions between lessons. Testing and other measurement tools also must be created to align with the presentation material.

Most complimentary financial literacy lesson plans are branded with a third-party company’s information and many include some form of advertising. Most free materials also have strict requirements regarding use and delivery methods. Be sure to read the terms and conditions closely.

Option 3: License Materials

According to the International Association for K-12 Learning, “Course licensing is by far the most common means of providing a comprehensive curriculum.” Licensing provides organizations immediate, evidence-based solutions, many of which are backed up with empirical evidence demonstrating their effectiveness.

Research will be required to find the financial literacy programming provider that best aligns with your educational and organizational goals. Only a few organizations currently offer licensing service. Be sure to compare the cost, quality, and delivery options to decide which program will best help your participants reach their learning objectives.

In many cases, the cost to license material is comparable to gathering free resources. And in contrast to the free material, licensing gives you immediate access to tested, evidence-based materials. Some available programs include features such as built-in activities, instructor resources, testing, and customizing details that lend a professional touch to your program. Instructor training is also important for those educators, volunteers and others that will be teaching financial literacy.

In the past, inflexibility has been one of the biggest drawbacks of licensed financial literacy programs. Older licensing models were rigid; licensors typically required that the curriculum be delivered in their prepackaged workshop formats. However, a few organizations that now license such material have addressed that issue by creating flexible programs that can accommodate a variety of schedules and learning outcomes. This new trend toward flexibility increases the viability and appeal of the licensing option.

Besides providing curriculum, licensors also offer various services. According to the International Association for K-12 Learning, “Comprehensive service providers supply the course content, learning management system, student information system, and maybe their own teaching staff and even school management. In turnkey systems, the client contracts with the provider to run the entire program. Providers supply their own teachers, or they may train local teachers in the provider’s methods.”

The potential benefits of financial education programming licensing include a strong evidence base, high-quality materials, quick access, and easy customization. Such features may make licensing the most practical option for many organizations. You should carefully review each of the three options to determine which makes the most sense to meet your unique needs.

Option 4: Sponsor or Donate Materials

Organizations that want to share the gift of financial education with your community but lack the time or personnel necessary to lead the initiate – sponsoring financial literacy programming may be your best option.

With financial education sponsorships you are able to leverage the experience and infrastructure of the groups you support. Sponsoring a campaign can help your organization meet its business objectives while you serve the community in a meaningful way; however, there are drawbacks.

When sponsoring a program there is typically a higher cost per reach and your control of the programs direction is limited. Sponsoring organizations typically do not have jurisdiction over the messaging or timeline. Additionally, the ability to align the initiative to your brand is limited.

The most important aspect of sponsorships is choosing an organization that provides you benefits that align with your phototropic and business objectives. Find those organizations that are seeking a win-win opportunity and have a desire to support your organizational goals.

Potential Solutions Overview

NFEC Solutions: Combine the Strengths of Each Option

Under-qualified or poorly-performing financial educators may bring future economic disaster. The effects of poor teaching can continue to affect students’ lives for many years after instruction ends.[8] [5] Worse, failure seemingly breeds more failure. According to the Dallas studies cited above, not only do under-qualified teachers reduce overall student achievement levels, but sub-par teachers also tend to be paired with already under-performing or at-risk students—thus exacerbating the risk of future economic problems resulting from financial illiteracy.

Unfortunately, many financial literacy instructors today lack solid educator credentials and/or knowledge about personal finance topics. Beyond academic qualifications, studies also show that an educator’s passion, enthusiasm, and commitment play critical roles in successful student development, and a correlation certainly exists between an educator’s level of personal commitment and students’ financial futures.[9] [10] [11]

Effective educators help learners achieve better outcomes. Numerous studies have shown that students of highly-qualified educators accomplish more positive outcomes than those taught by less-qualified instructors. For example, students of qualified educators may expect higher lifetime earnings and greater security at retirement [1] as well as improved mental and physical health and well-being. [2]

Take a Video tour of the Certified Financial Education Instructor Course

Download a complimentary copy of the Framework for Teaching Personal Finance.

Unique Subject

Financial education is a unique subject that requires specialized expertise to teach effectively. The quality of financial education instructors directly influences both short-term student outcomes and long-term impact on their financial wellbeing.

Unlike other core subject matter typically taught in schools, the topic of money elicits emotional reactions in people—ranging from excitement to anxiety to shame. Each participant in a financial literacy course brings his or her own experience, emotions, and relationship with money into the classroom. Educators must understand and respect these emotional reactions to succeed in establishing financial literacy among participants.

Emotional attachment and pre-existing relationships with money also put participants at greater risk. The NFEC uses the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change to measure a person’s willingness to change his or her financial behaviors. When participants are taught by an untrained educator, their risk of regressing to lower stages in the model is greatly increased. Thus they are likely to become more resistant to changing their financial acumen and habits.

To facilitate lasting behavior modification, educators must help students achieve a deeper level of understanding about financial literacy lessons compared to other core subject requirements. The NFEC advocates that instructors use Bloom’s Taxonomy of Higher-order Thinking Skills or the Depth of Knowledge Levels as a framework for teaching personal finance. Given adequate instruction time, a highly-qualified financial education instructor drives participants to synthesize the lessons and make decisions in alignment with their individual financial situations. Few other topics taught in schools demand such depth of understanding; for most subjects students simply need to recall information to pass testing requirements.

Qualified financial education instructors understand that “one-size-fits-all” pedagogy does not work. The NFEC believes that financial education instructors are not simply dispensers of knowledge; they are learning facilitators who can mold or modify participants’ behavior to help them achieve financial wellness.

[1] Annamaria Lusardi and Olivia S. Mitchell, NBER Working Paper No. 17078 (May 2011), Baby Boomer retirement security: The roles of planning, financial literacy, and housing wealth.

[2] Bennett et al., BMC Geriatrics, 12:30 (2012), Correlates of health and financial literacy in older adults without dementia.

[3] Max Nisen, Business Insider (Sep. 16, 2013), Impact of Teachers on Lifetime Earnings.

[4] Pamela D. Tucker and James H. Stronge, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (2005), Linking Teacher Evaluation and Student Learning.

[5] William J. Webster and Robert L. Mendro, Dallas Public Schools (1997), The Dallas Value-Added Accountability System Report.

[6] W. L. Sanders, S. P. Wright and S. P. Horn, Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, Vol. 11 (1997), Teacher and classroom context effects on student achievement: Implications for teacher evaluation.

[7] R. J. Marzano, D. J. Pickering and J. E. Pollock, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA (2001), Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement

[8] W. L. Sanders, Financial Literacy and Education Committee (2006), Taking Ownership of the Future.

[9] Ben Johnson, Principal, blog article (undated), Student Commitment Depends on Teacher Commitment.

[10] Randal C. Archibold, New York Times article (November 18, 1999), Students’ Success Depends on Teachers Most, Poll Says.

[11] Kenneth Leithwood, Karen Seashore Louis, Stephen Anderson and Kyla Wahlstrom, Wallace Foundation, Review of Research (undated), How leadership influences student learning.

[12] Corinne Baron-Donovan, Richard L. Wiener, Karen Gross and Susan Block-Lieb, Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (2005), Financial Literacy Teacher Training: A Multiple-Measure Evaluation.

[13] Richard Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Visa Inc. Financial Literacy and Education Summit, Chicago, IL (April 17, 2013), from prepared remarks.

[14] Harrison Jacobs, Business Insider article (October 11, 2013), Here’s How to Raise Teachers’ Salaries without Spending a Dime.