Jim’s story below, shows how his search for financial literacy project ideas lead him to a life of helping others become self-empowered.
Jim was a high school guidance counselor who was tired of watching tragedy unfold every year with almost every student. The kids he helped, mostly juniors and seniors, had no idea how to manage money. They were graduating high school, some with honors, yet were financially illiterate. As they walked across the stage and received their diplomas, Jim saw horrifying images of their near future, in debt, possibly facing a lifetime of subservience to money. He could no longer sit idly by, and decided to act.
He wanted to start a summer digital financial literacy project, not just for his school district but across the country if possible. The project would serve lower to middle class high school students in areas where high schools did not offer courses in money management. Unfortunately, there were plenty of them.
The problem was, many of the lower income kids probably didn’t have their own computer or internet, but Jim knew what to do. He got on the phone with community centers in target cities, where the population density would help him reach the most people. All of the centers he talked to were happy to host Jim’s digital literacy project in their respective local areas. Many of them would even help with advertising the class and provide a local personal finance educator to help guide the class.
Jim already knew what he wanted these kids to walk away with. They had never been introduced to the concept of sound money management. These inner-city, low to middle income pre-adults only knew one thing about money – that there was never enough.
They needed the ability and desire to think critically about earning, saving and budgeting money, along with an understanding of the concepts and skills of debt and financial planning for the future.
Critical Elements of this Financial Literacy Project
Jim knew this was a tough audience. The last thing these at-risk youth wanted to do on their summer vacation was to sit in a class. The subject matter had to be particularly enticing, especially to these students.
The digital financial literacy project ideas had to be engaging and directly related to the students’ lives. The students needed a strong scaffolding structure to support them every step of the way. Every aspect of this education was critical. The immediate temptation to NOT be in class was so strong, these kids needed every incentive working in concert to constantly support their attendance.
Jim knew that this was just the beginning for his program and for the students. Now he had a lot of financial literacy project ideas.
He recognized every student with a Completion Certificate and by congratulating them in the community centers’ bulletin boards and emails. The Certificates would go a long way in helping the students get summer jobs.
Jim and the community centers would also use their resources for this next step of helping the Graduates get summer jobs asap, so they can put their newfound skills and knowledge to work right away.
Ben Bernanke, economist and current Chairman of the Federal Reserve (the U.S. central bank), recently expressed his opinions about the need for a financial literacy project for American youth. “The financial preparedness of our nation’s youth is essential to their well-being and of vital importance to our economic future,” said Bernanke. “In light of the problems that have arisen in the subprime mortgage market, we are reminded of how critically important it is for individuals to become financially literate at an early age so that they are better prepared to make decisions and navigate an increasingly complex financial marketplace.”
As Bernanke nears the end of his tenure as Chair, his remarks resonate as we continue to witness the lingering effects of the 2008 Great Recession. Our nation’s young people face uncertain futures due simply to a lack of money knowledge. While college education may prepare young adults to enter the workforce, without learning basic money skills—financial literacy 101, if you will—they will enter the real world unprepared to meet the personal finance challenges they are sure to face. Yet the fundamentals of financial literacy facts are more readily available and easier to teach and learn than many people realize.
With the help of the National Financial Educators Council, community colleges and universities across America are beginning to answer the clarion call raised by Bernanke and others who have a passion for improving the lives of our nation’s youth. Schools are presenting their students with financial literacy education that will give them the confidence to take effective action toward fulfilling their personal, family, and global community goals.
Building financial literacy doesn’t only help the students. The institutions can turn these personal finance programs toward accomplishing a variety of school goals, including improving enrollment rates, obtaining grants and sponsorships, and networking with community leaders and nonprofit groups. It’s truly a win-win for everyone involved.